A driver or passenger is said to be negligent if he/she has behaved in a thoughtless or reckless manner causing harm or injury to another. A negligent driver can do something that he/she shouldn’t have done such as running a red light or over speeding or failing to do something that he/she should have done such as yielding or indicating when turning right. Though it seems simple, negligence is a complex legal theory that is sometimes quite difficult to prove. Drivers are required to exercise a certain level of care in order to avoid putting motorists, passengers and other road users at risk. If the driver doesn’t exercise a reasonable level of care and someone is injured or property is damaged in the process, he/she is said to be negligent and will be liable for the damages incurred by the victim(s).


What are the elements of a negligence claim?

In order to prove negligence, the plaintiff (person who files the lawsuit) must show that the defendant (person being sued) was guilty of the following:

  •          The defendant was not reasonably careful

Drivers are required to be reasonably careful when they meet other road users. They must exercise a ‘duty of reasonable care’ in their encounter with passengers, pedestrians or motorists on the roads.

  •          The defendant violated the duty of care

The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant was not careful by comparing the driver’s conduct to what’s expected by a reasonable person. The law determines how a reasonable, prudent person would have acted in the same situation or circumstance. If it is found that the defendant behaved in a manner in which a reasonable person wouldn’t have, he/she is said to have violated the ‘duty of reasonable care’. For instance, if the driver did not stop at a red light, watch for a pedestrian crossing or was following the vehicle in front too closely, he/she may be found guilty of violating the duty of care.

  •          The defendant’s conduct caused the injuries

The plaintiff must also prove that the defendant’s conduct resulted in the injuries. For instance, if the injured person suffered broken limbs, it must be proven that these injuries were caused by the car accident and not some other accident or event. If the victim has similar injuries before the accident, it would have to be proven that those injuries have been aggravated as a result of the accident. 

  •          The plaintiff suffered losses and injuries

It must also be proven that the victim suffered losses or was injured and is entitled to compensation. Accidents can result in several forms of damages such as lost wages, pain, and suffering, property damage, etc. The victim should suffer provable injuries as well as monetary losses in order to be able to recover something. For instance, if someone is involved in a car accident but is not injured or does not miss work and his/her car is not damaged, there is nothing to recover compensation from.

As the plaintiff, it’s important to keep detailed and complete records that show your injuries. For instance, keep a receipt of all the medical expenses, costs of car repairs and any other costs you’ve had to incur as a result of the accident. Your lawyer will advise on what kind of evidence is important to preserve.


Examples of ‘duty of care’

The law has put in place specific requirements to ensure drivers use reasonable care and minimize the risk of causing harm to other road users. There are different ways in which drivers can violate their duty of reasonable care. We’ll look into a few examples below:

  • Failing to drive at a reasonable speed: A person who is found driving at an unreasonable speed in situations such as when there’s poor visibility may be considered negligent. It doesn’t matter if the person was driving within the speed limit if the weather is poor or the circumstances require the driver to slow down such as when driving near a school.
  • Failing to remain vigilant or be on the lookout: Drivers have a duty to remain alert when behind the wheel and look carefully for impending danger, whether other vehicles, pedestrians, and road hazards. They are supposed to remain in control of the car and be able to stop quickly.
  • Maintaining the car in safe working order: Drivers are required to ensure that their vehicles are properly maintained. The lights and brakes should be in good working order.

Car accidents are unique and no two situations are alike. If the accident involves a personal injury, consider hiring a PI lawyer to help you get compensated for the damages incurred.