elements of negligence in personal injury claims

Some injuries are intentional—someone deliberately strikes you with their car or hits you with a baseball bat. But other injuries are unintentional, caused by the defendant’s carelessness. 

In these unintentional cases, you have been injured by someone’s “negligence,” and you can bring a lawsuit for negligence. We recognize how challenging it is when you have been in an accident due to another person’s negligence. 

In Washington, you need to establish 4 elements of negligence to prevail in a negligence case. Consider reaching out to our knowledgeable personal injury attorneys for assistance in bringing your claim.

Call (509) 866-4166 or send us an online message today for a free consultation.

What Is Negligence?

You may be wondering, What are the 4 elements of negligence? First, you must understand negligence as a legal term before examining the components of negligence. Negligence is the failure to act as an ordinary, reasonable person would act in the same or similar circumstances. Negligence can be an act, an omission, or a failure to act. 

Element One: The Defendant Owed You a Duty of Care

Now that we understand what negligence is, we must ask, What are the elements of negligence? To have a successful negligence claim, you will need to satisfy all of the negligence claim elements. There are 4 elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

In a negligence claim, the defendant must have owed the plaintiff a duty of care. In some cases, this responsibility is easy to prove. For example, a trucker owes other cars on the road a duty to drive carefully.

Not every individual owes you a duty of care. Generally, the harm you suffered must be foreseeable for a duty to be owed. In other words, it should be predictable that this type of harm would happen to a specific plaintiff.

Element Two: The Defendant’s Conduct Breached this Duty of Care

If the defendant owes you a duty of care, they typically need to use the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise. For example, drivers must use the care that other careful drivers would use. This standard doesn’t require that people be perfect, but they can’t be more careless than a reasonable person.

This standard might also be determined by the industry a person works in or any special training or knowledge a person has. For example, a doctor must act as a reasonable doctor would act in similar circumstances. 

A breach simply means the defendant did not act how a reasonable person would act in the same situation. For example, a driver who texts while driving has breached the duty they owe to other drivers to pay attention to the road. 

Element Three: Causation

The defendant’s lack of care must have “caused” your injuries. This is the fourth and final element.

Causation has two parts. First, the defendant’s conduct must have been the cause in fact of your injuries. Ask yourself, “But for the defendant’s conduct, would I have been injured?” If the answer is “no,” then there is cause in fact.

Second, the injuries must have been foreseeable. There must have been a known risk based on the defendant’s actions.

For example, a trucker who is texting while driving should know their conduct is creating a foreseeable risk of injuries because they are distracted and not paying attention to traffic. By texting while driving, the trucker has breached their duty to drive their truck with care and pay attention to the road.

If that distracted trucker crashes into your car and injures you, then the trucker’s breach of duty was the cause of your injury because it both actually caused the crash and because the crash and injuries it caused were foreseeable consequences of driving while texting. 

Causation involves various moving parts, which can be tricky to figure out on your own. Contact one of our attorneys today so we can examine the facts of your case to determine if negligence caused your injuries. 

Element Four: Damages

You need a legally recognizable injury to bring a negligence lawsuit. These injuries and the costs associated with them are known as damages. Damages is the last of the negligence claim elements. Generally, most injuries are physical, such as:

  • Broken bones,
  • Burns,
  • Cuts or abrasions,
  • Brain injuries,
  • Strains and sprains, and
  • Spinal cord injuries.

The first category of damages is economic damages. These are objective, quantifiable damages. You could receive compensation for any money spent on medical treatment, as well as lost wages if your injury kept you out of work.

These economic losses are directly attributable to your physical injuries. It is important to save bills, receipts, invoices, pay stubs, and other financial documents after your accident to help establish your economic losses. 

The second category of damages is noneconomic damages. This type of damages is more subjective and less easy to quantify than economic damage. You can receive compensation for emotional harm like depression, anger, or irritability. Typically, however, these emotional harms must have been caused by physical injury of some sort, although there are limited exceptions.

You must be able to show damages to bring a successful negligence claim. If all the other parts are present, but you don’t have any injuries or damages, you will be unable to recover any compensation.

The Statute of Limitations

It is essential to follow the statute of limitations when you bring a negligence claim. The statute of limitations refers to the time limit you have to file a claim.

This time limit differs in every state and can be different depending on the type of claim you’re bringing. In Washington state, there is a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims. This means you have three years from the time of the injury to bring a lawsuit. 

While three years may seem like plenty of time, it is essential to contact a lawyer well before the deadline. An experienced personal injury attorney will help you file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations has run out. If you miss the deadline, a court can prevent you from recovering the compensation you’d otherwise be entitled to.

Contact our skilled personal injury lawyers if you have any questions about the statute of limitations or how an attorney can help you meet the deadline.

Speak with a Yakima Personal Injury Lawyer

Negligence actions are complicated and require an experienced legal eye to determine whether you have a valid claim. Washington Law & Politics magazine has recognized our attorneys, John Kapuza and Greg Lighty, as “Super Lawyers.” Each of our lawyers has also earned a top rating of 10 out of 10 on Avvo.

Our practice areas include car accident claims, truck accident claims, slip-and-fall accidents, and more. To discuss your case with a personal injury lawyer at Kapuza Lighty Accident Injury Lawyers, please reach out to us today. Initial consultations are free. You are welcome to contact us by phone at (509) 866-4166, or you can tell us about your case by filling out our online form


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