What is negligence and what are the elements of a negligence claim?

Negligence refers to a common type of tort claim in which the plaintiff alleges that a defendant acted carelessly or unreasonably and harmed the plaintiff. If a person is negligent, that person is at fault. In other words, if person A fails to follow a yield sign and plows her car into the vehicle of person B, B may sue A for negligence. The theory is that A operated her motor vehicle in a negligent, or faulty, fashion. It doesn’t matter that A did not mean to harm B. What matters is whether A was at fault and unreasonable in the operation of her motor vehicle and caused harm to B.

Similarly, if a business cleans its floors with slippery substances and does not clean up the floor and warn its customers of the dangerous condition, the business is negligent. The theory is that it is socially unreasonable for the business owner to place its customers in harm’s way.

The elements of a negligence claim are (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages. Duty means that a person owes a duty to other people to act in a socially reasonable manner. Breach of duty occurs when the defendant fails to act reasonably under the circumstances, or fails to act like a reasonable person under the circumstances. Causation means that the defendant’s conduct caused the harm suffered by the plaintiff. Damages refer to the requirement that the plaintiff suffers some type of actual harm.