What is Negligence?

The definition of negligence is a key part of the claims process in insurance. When somebody sues someone else for bodily injury or property damage, they must prove that the person was negligent in some manner. Otherwise they will not be able to collect for damages.

While a specific act of negligence is often open to interpretation, the definition is rather simple. “Negligence” can be defined as the failure of a individual to act in a manner that is reasonably prudent.

With regard to insurance claims however, there are four elements of negligence that must be proven in order to win a lawsuit. Without all four, the claimant is out of luck.

Let’s look at an example of a situation where all four elements are present:


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First, there must be a duty to act in a prudent manner. You can’t be found negligent for walking down the street minding your own business. An example of a duty to act would be the ownership of a dry cleaning store. You are responsible for maintaining a safe environment inside and outside your store (this includes the parking lot).

The second element of proving negligence requires (as the store owner) a breach of the duty to act in a prudent manner. For example, if the parking lot of your store is icy, and you do not throw salt down on the walkway to ensure people don’t slip and fall, you are not following through on this duty.

Next, an actual injury or damage must occur. This means you cannot be sued for simply not salting the walkway. Someone actually has to slip, fall, and injure themselves in some manner in order to attempt to collect for damages.

Finally, the breach of duty to act in a prudent manner must be the exact, or proximate, cause of the injury. Slipping on the ice, in this example, must be the exact reason the person injured himself or herself. If someone fell in your parking lot, but it was because another person bumped into him or her, not from slipping on the ice, they would not be able to collect damages from you.

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