Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. It is the basis of most personal injury cases, including slip and fall accidents, motor vehicle accidents, and nursing home abuse cases. To recover compensation for damages, an injured party must prove each of the legal elements of a negligence claim.

There are four legal elements of a negligence case:

Let’s look at each of these elements in more detail.

Duty of Care

In personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed them a duty of care. For example, in cases involving car accidents, all motorists owe a duty of care to others to drive safely and follow traffic laws. Motorists have a duty of care to operate their vehicles safely to avoid causing motor vehicle accidents.

Breach of Duty

The plaintiff must provide convincing evidence that the defendant’s actions breached the duty of care. A plaintiff will use the reasonable person standard to show a breach. They will attempt to prove that the defendant failed to act like a reasonable person under the circumstances.

For example, suppose the defendant ran a red light and collided with your car. A reasonable person obeys traffic laws and observes traffic signals to avoid causing car accidents. The defendant’s conduct was unreasonable — the defendant breached their duty of care by disobeying traffic laws and putting other motorists in danger.


Breaching the duty of care is not sufficient to prove negligence. You must show that the defendant’s breach was a direct and proximate cause of your injury. To do this, you must prove that your accident would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. Moreover, you must demonstrate that your injuries were a foreseeable result of their conduct.

Let’s return to our example above. Suppose you suffered severe whiplash when the defendant ran the red light and collided with your car. You would not have been in an accident and suffered whiplash but for their running the red light. Likewise, whiplash is a foreseeable consequence of running a red light. Therefore, the defendant is the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.

Proving causation can be one of the most challenging aspects of a negligence claim.


You must have sustained damages to recover money for a negligence claim. If you were not injured and did not have any financial losses, the defendant would not owe you any money.

Damages include your physical injuries, but they also include:

  • Cost of medical treatment and care
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Nursing care and personal care
  • Permanent impairments and disabilities
  • Loss of income and benefits 
  • Mental anguish and emotional distress
  • Reductions in your future earning potential
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

The plaintiff’s injury often results in many of the above damages. 

What is the Standard of Care?

The standard of care can refer to the level of care acceptable in a given situation. For example, there is a standard of care that doctors must meet when they are treating patients. In a medical malpractice case, medical experts would determine the acceptable standard of care based on what other doctors with similar education and experience would do in a similar situation.

In other personal injury cases, the standard of care is based on the “reasonable person.” A “reasonable person” is a hypothetical standard based on what jurors believe a person with reasonable prudence and common sense would do under the same circumstances. 

If a defendant’s conduct falls short of the standard of care, the result is a breach of duty. For instance, a doctor does not order diagnostic tests because he dismisses the patient’s symptoms without further study. Instead, the accepted standard of care would be to order the tests to rule out a possible condition with the same symptoms. 

The Impact of Comparative Negligence on a Personal Injury Case

Different types of negligence could apply in an injury case. The above discussion applies to the level of negligence used to determine liability in most injury cases.

Gross negligence is a lack of care that is so wanton and reckless that it represents a total disregard for the lives and safety of other individuals. It is a deliberate breach of the duty of care, whereas negligence does not require intentional wrongdoing. Gross negligence is usually required to recover punitive damages

Comparative negligence and contributory negligence refer to the responsibility of an injured victim for the cause of the injury. Pennsylvania uses a modified comparative negligence standard in personal injury cases.

Suppose a plaintiff is partially responsible for the cause of the incident that resulted in their injury. In that case, their compensation can be reduced by the percentage of fault a jury assigns to them. For example, if a jury found a plaintiff was 20 percent at fault for the cause of a motorcycle crash, the victim could only receive 80 percent of the value of their damages. 

However, Pennsylvania’s modified comparative negligence standard has a 51 percent bar. If you are more than 51 percent at fault for the cause of your injury, you are barred from recovering any money for your damages. 

Contact a Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyer Today for Help

Proving negligence can be complicated. You could have several defendants involved in a case. You may need expert witnesses and assist with the investigation. You should consider consulting a personal injury lawyer for help establishing causation and other elements of negligence. 

We serve all across the Lower Susquehanna River Valley region, and we have a team of personal injury lawyers in HarrisburgYorkCarbondaleCarlisleChambersburgLancasterLebanon, and Wyomissing.