What is Personal Injury Law?
St. George, Utah is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S., according to new estimates from the Census Bureau. This news likely does not come as a surprise to area residents who are dealing with the constant road construction, seeing new homes being built and other construction projects taking place. As more and more people migrate to St. George, more and more vehicles are on the road which invariably leads to increased car accidents and injuries. Before one begins googling for “accident lawyers near me” or “personal injury lawyer in St. George, UT”, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what personal injury law is.
In most jurisdictions, including Utah, in order for someone injured in a car accident to recover for their injuries, it must be proven in court that the other driver was negligent. The definition of negligence is the failure to do an act which a reasonably careful person would do, or the doing of an act which a reasonably careful person would not do, under the same or similar circumstances to protect oneself or others from bodily injury, death, or property damage. Generally, negligent conduct involves an action, such as hitting a pedestrian in an intersection or rear-ending another driver’s vehicle. Negligent conduct may also involve inaction, such as a failure to act. For example, a lifeguard who fails to rescue someone who is drowning in the pool he or she oversees may be liable for negligence.
The Elements of Negligence
There are four distinct elements of negligence. An “element” is a necessary component of a legal claim. If you cannot establish each of the four elements of negligence, you will not be able to receive any compensation for your injuries. These elements are: 1) A duty of care; 2) Breach; 3) Causation; and 4) Damages.
Duty of Care
The first element of negligence is known as the “duty of care.” A duty of care arises when the law recognizes a relationship between two parties, and due to this relationship, one party has a legal obligation to act in a certain manner toward the other. In Utah, drivers have a duty to exercise care toward other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians who share the roadways. They are required to abide by traffic signals and laws and must refrain from causing unreasonable danger to others.
The second element of negligence is a breach of the duty of care. A person or entity breaches the duty of care by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. An example of a scenario where a breach of duty has occurred is when a driver speeds down a residential street and hits three children crossing the street on their way home from school or a driver does not allow adequate stopping distance when approaching an intersection and strikes a minivan that was stopped at the light.
The third element of negligence is causation. The breach of the duty of care must be the legal cause of the damage suffered by the injured person. There are two distinct components of legal causation: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause exists when but for the breach of the duty of care, the injured person would not have suffered an injury. Proximate cause exists when the type and extent of the injured person’s injuries were reasonably related to the breach of the duty of care. For example, legal cause would exist in the following scenario. While merging onto a highway, a truck driver hits a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist breaks his neck and suffers paralysis. Had the truck driver not hit the motorcyclist, he would not have broken his neck. The injuries suffered by the motorcyclist are reasonably related to the truck driver’s failure to exercise reasonable care while merging onto the highway. Damages
The fourth element of negligence is damages. The injured person must have suffered an injury that can be remedied by monetary compensation. Injuries that can be remedied by monetary compensation are costs like medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost earnings and loss of quality of life.
It is also important to understand that there are many factors that can limit compensation for your injuries or may prevent you from being compensated at all. To understand some of these facts, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.