What Are The 5 Elements of Negligence in Texas?
The five elements of negligence here in Texas are 1) duty; 2) breach; 3); cause in fact 4); proximate cause; and 5) damages.
In this article you will learn how each elements of negligence is proven to demonstrate unreasonable care here in Texas. The guide will also aid students, professors, and fellow attorneys in understanding what types of evidence best help establish a prima facia case of negligence in court.
But first, let's quickly define negligence.
What is negligence?
Negligence is a cause of action within tort law which defines any and all behaviors that falls below a required standard established by law for the protection of people against an unreasonable or unsafe risk of harm. These behaviors generally involves actions, or failures to act, when there was a duty in the circumstance established by law.
Now, let’s discuss each of the five elements needed to prove negligence in greater detail.
According to Texas law, negligence cases are determined by the presence of a duty of care to the plaintiff. A duty emerges when the law establishes the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant, and a responsibility the defendant should have upheld. Codified laws, statutes, or safety policies determine when duty was required of the defendant. In Court, the judge will observe if an objective person, under similar circumstances, would assume duty in any specific scenario, and the jury would determine the reasonable of the defendant’s actions.
For example, if a defendant is a commercial truck driver and fails to properly secure a load of cargo before starting an interstate delivery trip, and while on the highway a box falls from his trailer and causes a multiple car collision, the first question that must be resolved is whether the defendant owed a duty to the motorists involved in the crash. If there’s no State or Federal law establishing that commercial truck drivers must ensure all goods loaded for transport are properly secured, then the truck driver cannot be held legally responsible. But in fact, there is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Law that specifically discusses Cargo Securement Rules. The law establishes - wait for it - that commercial motor carriers have a “duty” to use proper tie-downs when securing loads to prevent items from coming loose, unfastening, or releasing while the truck is in transit.
More simpler duties involve motorists not texting and driving, daycare operators ensuring that children are supervised while within the childcare facility, or even pet owners making sure their dog is properly fenced in to prevent the animal from roaming the neighborhood.
Legal Duties are often set in place through State or Federal laws, or established by company safety manuals, public safety policies, or city mandates and ordinances.
It is not enough for a person to prove that another person owed them or a duty. The personal injury lawyer must next prove that the Defendant breached the to the other person. The negligent party breaches such a duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. The issue of breach is analyzed by a jury and often requires case-specific details. In referencing the examples of the commercial truck driver’s unsecured loads, the jury would have to decide why and how the truck driver failed to properly tie down the cargo. If the driver properly tied down the load, but the ties burst during transit, perhaps another party under that driver should be held responsible for the resulting damages.
3. Cause in fact
Cause, in fact, also called “actual cause,” is often the easiest element to improve in the legal analysis. A claimant needs to force evidence that the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injury. If the resulting damages would have occurred even outside of the defendant’s actions, then this element has not been met. This analysis is often called a “but-for” analysis, meaning, but for the defendant’s act or omission, would the plaintiff’s injury have happened?
In the tucking example, if the vehicles that crashed would have still collided due to one of the motorists texting and driving, then perhaps the truck driver is not actually the cause or sole cause.
4. Proximate cause
To prove the element of proximate cause, the plaintiff must demonstrate through direct evidence or circumstantial evidence that the potentially liable party’s duty is sufficiently related to the resulting event. Stated more simply, “Is it reasonable believable that the defendant’s violation of the standard of care would have caused the plaintiff’s accident?’’ Sometimes, the chain of events triggered by the defendant’s actions is too remarkable to hold the defendant liable.
In the example described above, the passenger cars that crashed would prove proximate cause by showing that the truck driver could have foreseen the harm that would have resulted from the cargo falling from the trailer. On the contrary, if the harm is something more remote to the defendant's act, then the plaintiff will be less likely to prove this element.
As an example, let’s assume that when the cargo fell it did not cause a pile-up, but instead a piece of wood from a broken box only punctured a driver's tire. Then, three days later, the owner of the car notices a slow leak and while driving to a mechanic shop is struck by another car, causing the motorist to suffer a broken arm.
Although the harm - by way of a broken arm - is within the scope of the harm that the defendant risked by his actions, the truck driver probably could not have foreseen that days later he would have caused a second accident due to his carelessness. Hence, the victim wouldn't be able to satisfy the element of proximate causation and secure compensation for his injuries.
If the defendant neglects to uphold a duty of care in a negligence case, it must incite physical damages to a person or property to prove legal harm. The plaintiff must experience damages due to the defendant's negligence of duty. A personal injury claim needs to be filed if this is applicable. Consult with an attorney to ensure all requirements are met, and the claim is handled promptly.
Types of Negligence Claims In Texas
Negligence can occur in a wide range of accident cases in our state.
Some examples of cases that involve negligence may include:
Elder abuse or neglect
An attorney can aid you in figuring out whether there is ample evidence to bring a case of negligence. After determining if a viable case exist your legal team will begin the process of securing the evidence necessary to support your recovery.
Why is each elements of negligence so important?
Generally speaking, without understanding each element and how to successfully prove each requirement within a court of law, an attorney is unable to hold a careless person legally responsible for any resulting harm caused by their unsafe actions.
For example, without being able to demonstrate to the court that the five elements are present, you would be unable to demonstrate why an intoxicated driver hitting a pedestrian within a neighborhood should have to pay compensation for the victim’s medical bills, rehabilitation needs, lost wages, pain and suffering damages.
What type of evidence helps in proving the five elements of negligence?
Some of the the types of evidence that can be used to provide the five elements of negligence here in Texas include; electronic data, official reports, and witness information.
Electronic data includes any helpful photos, videos, or similar digital information that can be later relied on in court. When any accident is caused by the actions of another person or entity, you should always capture photos of the scene, environment, and any factors that could aid an attorney is proving who was at fault, and the gravity on your injuries. If you are aware of any camera or video surveillance that captured the event leading up to the incident, ask for a copy of the footage. A lawyer can also help by sending a preservation of evidence letter and requesting no form of electronic data be destroyed in the regular course of business. This letter, also called an anti-spoliation letter, can also include any evidence located in emails, on a computer hard drive, among other places.
Make sure to collect official reports. These can be acquired from more than just the police alone. Employers, surrounding businesses, and property owners may have official reports that allow you to substantiate your case with further evidence.
When an accident ensues, you should always gather contact information from potential witnesses. This may not feel important during high-stress scenarios, but it will provide you with essential evidence down the line. Any testimonials and statements from third-party observers will be beneficial to your case. An outside perspective can further support a defendant's failed duty or negligence.
Evidence will likely fall in real, demonstrative, documentary, or testimonial categories. The examples above are all beneficial in proving your injury claim. The more evidence you collect early on, the more likely you are to receive justice in a negligence case. Contact a lawyer to get access to possible evidence relating to your incident. An attorney will also be able to support your claim with critical assets like hiring key witnesses, investigators, and accident reconstructionist.
Now that you understand the five elements of negligence and how to find clear supportive evidence, you can explain this legal concept to others and also use the information on this page to determine whether someone has a viable cause of action against the liable person, company, or entity. If you or a loved one was injured due to the act or omissions of another, meeting the burden of proof by bringing evidence supporting each element entitles you to recover both economic and non-economic damage. If you're interested in learning more about your rights and options, you schedule a consultations with an experienced Texas personal injury attorney.