What Is Negligence?

What Is Negligence?

  When you hire a qualified attorney to represent you after you have been injured, you may hear the term negligence mentioned a lot. The common definition refers to someone who neglects to do something, but in tort law, which deals with injured parties, negligence has a very specific meaning. From a legal standpoint, negligence is one party’s failure to behave with a reasonable level of care. Negligence most often refers to the actions of another party, but it may also include omissions when there is a duty to act.

Four Elements of Negligence

When a Virginia court handles a personal injury case, the judge and/or jury listen(s) to arguments that attempt to prove or disprove one or more of the four elements of negligence, which are:

Duty of Care

A person or entity cannot be negligent without first owing a duty of care to the plaintiff. In personal injury lawsuits, a duty of care is implicit in many situations. Here are some examples:
  • All drivers have a duty of care towards others with whom they share the road.
  • Doctors and medical professionals have a duty of care towards patients.
  • Property owners have a duty of care towards visitors.

Breach of Duty

Negligence must include a breach of an established duty of care. Defendants might breach their duty in multiple ways. Some examples include:
  • Drivers who violate traffic regulations, such as drinking and driving, speeding, driving while texting, and more.
  • Caregivers who don’t provide adequate nutrition for elders at home or in nursing homes.
  • Companies who manufacture, distribute, or sell defective products.


Even if a defendant owed a plaintiff a duty of care and breached that duty, a court will not find him or her negligent if the plaintiff did not suffer an actual injury. Many injuries are visible or tangible, as in physical injuries from an accident and financial losses. Yet, injuries might include other things that aren’t as easy to measure, such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other types of non-economic damages.

Causal Connection

The final element of negligence, and often the focus of many personal injury lawsuits, is the causal connection between a plaintiff’s injury and a defendant’s breach. The plaintiff, with the help of a qualified lawyer, must prove that the defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This is often difficult to prove and may not involve a direct causal connection. Instead, the breach of duty is often a proximate cause that is related to the injury. For example, a drunk driver swerves and hits another car. The other driver sustains multiple injuries. Drunk driving did not cause the injuries directly, but it did lead to the swerving, which caused the accident that led to the injury.

Hire a Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you have been injured by another person’s careless behavior or intent to harm, Virginia law entitles you to seek damages in civil court. Yet, the state has a strict contributory negligence rule. This means that if the court finds that you contributed to your own injury, even only slightly, Virginia law prohibits you from collecting damages. You need a seasoned lawyer on your side who understands Virginia’s negligence laws. Call the skilled legal team at Emroch & Kilduff today at (804) 358-1568, or contact us online, to schedule your free consultation.

William B. Kilduff


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If you have been injured because of someone elses negligence, contact one of our experienced personal injury lawyers for a free consultation. For your convenience, Emroch & Kilduff has two office locations in Virginia: Richmond and Tappahannock.

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