According to Oxford Languages, a tort is a wrongful act or infringement of a right leading to legal liability. The doctrine of negligence as a tort emphasizes that an individual should be liable in instances where they caused harm to another individual under careless circumstances. The doctrine of negligence is founded on the idea that both individuals and institutions have a duty of care toward people, so they have the responsibility or obligation to act with reasonable care. When individuals fail to exercise their duty of care toward other people, this might result in a personal injury dispute, requiring that the defendant compensate the plaintiff.
However, before the defendant is deemed negligent, the plaintiff is obligated to prove the existence of specific elements, otherwise known as the five elements of negligence. The case of Brown v. Kendall laid the framework for the principle of being a separate tort in the United States. Also, this decision emphasized the fact that there is a link between a defendant’s failure to fulfill their legal duty to the plaintiff and any proximate damage that the plaintiff suffers.
So, to prove that a defendant has been negligent in carrying out their duty of care to the plaintiff, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owes them a duty of care. In a negligence dispute, the court often asks the question, “What would a reasonable person do?” This means that the defendant has a duty to show the same level of care an average person would display under such circumstances (that led to the injury).
Note that there are instances when the “reasonable person” test might not suffice. Certain professions have their own duty of care. For example, in the medical profession, a doctor is expected to exhibit a duty of care consistent with that of every trained medical professional.
Further, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached that duty and the breach was a direct cause of their injury. For instance, school administrators have the duty of care to ensure that their students are safe within the school premises. This will imply that the school is obligated to provide security personnel at volatile points within the school property. Failure of a school to take such measures might amount to a breach of the duty of care.
Also note that if a defendant breaches a duty of care, but that breach does not directly cause harm or injury to the plaintiff, the defendant will not be liable for negligence. For a person to be liable, their actions must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For example, if a construction company refuses to put necessary safety measures on their construction site and a visitor comes onto the site and dies of cardiac arrest, the family of the deceased cannot sue the construction company for negligence.
Also, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant should have foreseen the likelihood of the injury happening. This means the likelihood of the harm happening must have been foreseeable to any reasonable person. This is sometimes referred to as the foreseeable doctrine. The foreseeable doctrine posits that a reasonable person should be able to foresee that their actions might result in a chain of events that might harm the plaintiff.
Finally, for the defendant to be held liable for negligence, the plaintiff must prove that they have suffered harm or injury that is actually worthy of compensation. The injury or harm must be such that the plaintiff should be compensated for lost wages, emotional distress, pain and suffering, or medical bills from injuries.