Negligence is one of the most fundamental concepts in personal injury law. As a personal injury law firm in the Florida panhandle, proving our client's case often means showing that the defendant was negligent and this negligence led directly to the plaintiff's injury. A special rule applies when the defendant's conduct also violated a penal statute, with the concept of negligence per se acting as a bit of a legal shortcut that helps us build our client's case. Negligence per se is just one of the many tools our Panama City injury lawyer uses to convince the court to hold the defendant responsible for the plaintiff's injuries and award our client money damages.
Many, if not most, personal injury claims rest on a theory of negligence. In order to understand negligence, it helps to look at the list of standard jury instructions that judges use to explain Florida law to jurors in civil cases. Florida Civil Instruction 401.4 states: "[n]egligence is the failure to use reasonable care." In order to justify a legal claim, this failure must have caused the plaintiff harm (see Instruction 401.2). Generally, injured parties in negligence cases must show: 1) Duty -- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (ex. a driver's duty to avoid hitting a pedestrian); 2) A breach -- A failure to fulfil the duty (i.e. failure to behave as a reasonable person would); 3) Causation -- The breach led to the injuries; and 4) Damages -- An injury, typically monetized.
Proving negligence can be time consuming. Negligence per se provides a shortcut when the defendant violated a law intended to keep the public from harm. Per Instruction 401.8, Florida law requires that the statute violated be a non-traffic penal statute in order to trigger the shortcut. A penal statute describes an offense against the state with a corresponding punishment, in contrast to a wrong against another private party linked to a civil remedy. If the plaintiff shows that the defendant violated such a statute, that itself is proof of negligence. The plaintiff need not show duty and breach and can skip ahead to showing proximate cause, i.e. that the negligence legally caused his/her injury. Notably, Jury Instruction 401(9) applies when a defendant violated another type of statute (i.e. non-penal and traffic statutes). In those cases, a violation is considered evidence of negligence but is not conclusive proof of negligence.
Two brief examples are helpful.
1) Suppose Jack made an illegal turn and ran into Jill who was walking uphill, causing Jill to break her collarbone. Since the turn likely violated a traffic statute, the violation is evidence but not proof of negligence. In order to hold Jack liable in court, Jill must to show that (1) Jack owed her a duty of care, (2) failed to meet that duty, and (3) that this failure led to Jill's injury. Put another way, Jill must show that Jack violated a legal duty and that Jill was the type of person that the law intended to protect.
2) Suppose Jack was driving drunk when he ran into Jill, who was on her way to buy a bucketful of bottled waters, and caused Jill a head injury (i.e. "broke her crown"). Since drunk driving violates penal law and Jill is among those the law intends to protect, , proving that Jack violated this statute amounts to negligence per se and is proof Jack was negligent. Jill must show this violation led to her injury but need not show the traditional proof of negligence.
Our firm is proud to protect the wrongfully injured in Panama City and the surrounding region. As a Northwest Florida personal injury lawyer, Attorney Pittman helps the injured recover money damages from those at fault. Throughout the process, our firm helps our clients understand the law and how concepts such as negligence per se apply to their unique case. We also keep our clients informed about the progress of their suit, including helping the clients evaluate any settlement offers.
If you have been injured as a result of someone else's negligent or wrongful acts, you may have a civil claim. Call to arrange a free consultation to discuss how we can help you recover monetary compensation.
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