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What is "negligence?"

"Negligence" is the foundation of almost every lawsuit seeking damages for physical injuries caused by an auto accident or motor cycle accident. Most people are aware of the legal principle that a person is responsible for injuries caused by his or her negligence. But what, exactly, is "negligence"? The concept of negligence has been part of the common law for centuries, and entire books have been devoted to defining it. Nevertheless, a helpful definition can be derived from California statutes and a few simple examples.

California's Civil Code provides the general rule: "Everyone is responsible . . . for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person. . . ." The key is the concept of "ordinary care or skill," or as commonly stated, "reasonable care." A person has a duty to use reasonable care in going about his or her daily business. If a departure from this duty causes injury, the person who breached the duty of using reasonable care is liable for those damages.

Common examples of negligence are speeding in a motor vehicle, running a red light, storing flammable materials too close to a source of ignition or failing to keep a vicious dog in a kennel. Persons who hold themselves out as possessing certain skills or training - doctors, lawyers and engineers, to name a few - must abide by the standard of reasonable care followed by others in the same profession. Hence, legal and medical malpractice are the failure to apply the same standard of care followed by others in the same profession. A lawyer may be found negligent for ignoring a relevant statute, or a physician may be found negligent for prescribing the wrong medication.

A person injured in such an accident should consult an attorney experienced in handling cases involving negligence for an assessment of the facts and assistance in pursuing the claim if it can be proved that the damages were caused by the negligence of another person.

Source: California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 400, "Negligence - Essential Factual Elements," and 401, "Basic Standard of Care," accessed on Feb. 28, 2015

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