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Elements of Negligence (Overview: Elements To Prove In Law)

What are the Elements of Negligence?

What are the elements of the tort of negligence?

What are key aspects should you know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our tort law and rules of evidence knowledge!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

Elements of Negligence Overview

What are the elements of negligence?

What do you need to prove in court to establish a successful negligence case?

Negligence Claim

Let’s start by defining what is a negligence claim or negligence lawsuit.

A negligence claim is a legal theory used to attribute fault to a person in a civil lawsuit when the at-fault person failed to act or behave in a manner that an ordinary and prudent person would have in the same circumstances.

The ultimate objective of a negligence suit is to compensate for the injuries suffered due to the other party’s negligence.

In other words, by filing a negligence claim, a plaintiff is seeking compensation for injuries caused by the defendant’s actions or omission (legally qualified as negligent conduct).

Different types of negligence claims may include:

  • Car accidents
  • Medical malpractice 
  • Workplace injuries
  • Defective products
  • Premise liability 

Tort Law

Not every act, conduct, behavior, or omission will legally be defined as negligence.

For example, you can argue that a person cutting his or her fingers while cutting salad was negligent.

Perhaps a person who forgets her wallet in a store is negligent.

The non-legal term understanding of “negligence” is different from what the law defines as “negligent behavior” or conduct.

Negligence Definition 

How do you define negligence in law?

In law, the courts use a more narrow definition of negligence to ensure that not all actions and conduct we perform in our everyday lives get legally qualified as negligence.

The negligence law definition is important as a person’s legal liability to compensate another for damages will be based on it.

According to the Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, negligence in law is defined as:

A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. 

Generally speaking, the law requires that the plaintiff prove the defendant did not exercise the same level of prudence an ordinary person would have exercised in the same situation.

Let’s see how we can prove that…

Four Elements of Negligence

What are the 4 elements of negligence?

Negligence is composed of four elements that must be proved in court by the plaintiff to win the case:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff legal duty of care
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The defendant’s breach of duty caused the injuries
  • The plaintiff suffered an injury

Let’s look at each component to better understand each of the elements of a negligence claim.

Duty of Care

Duty of care is the first element to establish in court is to demonstrate that the defendant owed the plaintiff duty of care.

In many lawsuits, this element is not necessarily challenging to prove.

For example, a negligent driver responsible for an accident causing the plaintiff injury owed the plaintiff duty of care by ensuring they are driving with prudence and observing the traffic laws.

A business owner has a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the premises are safe or the work conditions do not expose the employees to health hazards.

Breach of Duty

The second element to prove in court is that the defendant failed to behave in a manner that a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation.

For example, a prudent driver will respect the speed limits and drive with prudence.

A person breaching this duty of care is a person who does excessive speeding (or does not respect the speed limits) and does not drive with prudence.

If a person gets into a car accident for speeding, we can argue that the driver breached the duty of care owed to other drivers (including the plaintiff).

Another example is a dog owner who knows that her dog is aggressive towards children and lets the dog loose in a park where children are playing.


Causation is the third element to prove to prosecute a civil negligence claim successfully.

As the term implies, causation means a direct correlation (cause in fact) between the defendant’s action or omission and the plaintiff’s injury.

In other words, the plaintiff suffered an injury due to the defendant’s negligent act.

It’s important to keep in mind that causation requires a level of foreseeability that the conduct may expose another to risk.

For example, if a defendant was speeding beyond the legal limits causing an accident, and hurting the plaintiff, the property damage on the car and any medical expenses for physical injuries suffered are “caused” by the defendant’s negligence.

On the other hand, if the plaintiff’s injuries are not linked to the defendant’s negligent behavior, the law will not attribute liability to the defendant.

For example, a worker develops mesothelioma, a specific type of cancer that may affect the lining of the lungs and chest wall.

The worker sues the employer for negligence, alleging that it’s the workplace exposure to asbestos that caused cancer.

However, the employer brings evidence that the lung cancer was developed due to the plaintiff’s excessive smoking for decades.

Similarly, if the plaintiff suffered injuries due to unforeseeable events or force majeure, the defendant may not be held liable as the court can consider little causation. 

In some cases, causation will be easy to demonstrate while in other cases, it will be challenging to prove.


The final element composing the four elements of negligence tort is to prove the injury (or damages).

Injury or damages is probably the most difficult element to prove in court.

In fact, a plaintiff can successfully prove that the defendant had a standard of care to observe and breached at observing such standard but fails at proving damages.

The whole objective or purpose of a negligence action is to recover damages.

This means that the plaintiff must prove that there were damages.

Otherwise, proving that the defendant was at fault is not enough to get compensation.

The negligence laws are designed to allow the victim of negligent conduct to recover damages for actual injuries suffered.

Without the evidence of the “injury” or “how much”, the plaintiff will not be able to get legal compensation.

The injury can be either bodily harm (physical injuries) or property damage (loss or damage to property).

For example, the plaintiff who suffered spinal cord injury, whiplash injuries, broken bones, or other types of injuries in a car accident can seek damages to compensate for such physical injuries.

In addition, the plaintiff can also seek compensation for property damage caused to his or her vehicle (repair or replacement costs).

Five Elements of Negligence

So far, we’ve talked about the four elements of negligence.

However, are there 5 elements of negligence?

If so, what are the 5 elements of negligence?

Although a civil negligence lawsuit requires four elements to be proven in court, we should also consider the notion of proximate cause.

Proximate cause is an event that caused injury to the plaintiff that the court believes is sufficiently connected or linked to the defendant’s negligence.

In other words, the defendant’s actions produced a foreseeable consequence leading to the plaintiff’s injuries.

For example, a driver is hurt in a car accident and suffers brain injuries.

While the driver is being treated, the doctor does not perform the proper operation and the driver ends up with paralysis.

Although the doctor’s negligence is not directly caused by the driver at fault of the accident, the plaintiff can argue that he would not have needed brain surgery if it was not because of the defendant’s negligence.

We call this the “but for” test.

The “but for” test is like saying “but for the defendant’s action”, the injury would not have occurred.

As a result, you can consider the five elements of negligence to be:

  • Duty
  • Breach of duty
  • Cause in fact
  • Proximate cause
  • Damages 

Professional Negligence Elements

What are the elements to prove in a professional negligence lawsuit?

What are the elements of negligence for professionals?

Essentially, professional negligence is based on the same legal footing as the legal negligence theory.

The difference between civil negligence applicable to all citizens and professional negligence is that standard of duty.

A doctor, lawyer, accountant, therapist, dentist, nurse, architect, engineer, or any other professional is expected to discharge their duties with knowledge, skill, prudence, and care.

You expect a doctor, lawyer, or other professional to provide medical or legal guidance based on accepted industry standards.

The professional negligence elements are:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of duty of care
  • Causation
  • Damages 

The duty of care must be evaluated based on the level of care expected from a knowledgeable and skillful professional

The breach of duty of care demonstrates that the professional conduct, advice, behavior, or act deviated from what was expected of a skillful and careful professional in the same situation.

On the other hand, ordinary negligence refers to a standard of care that a “reasonable” or “ordinary” person should adopt in the same circumstance.

Takeaways: Negligence Elements

What are the Elements of Negligence?

What should you prove as elements of a tort claim?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Elements of Tort Negligence

  • There are four elements to prove in a civil negligence lawsuit: duty of care, breach of duty of care, causation, and injuries
  • In some jurisdictions, the proximate cause may be considered as the fifth element to prove
  • Duty of care refers to how a person should act or behave with prudence and mindful of the safety and security of others just like an ordinary person would in the same situation 
  • Breach of duty is to show that the defendant failed to act with prudence and care just like a reasonably prudent person would in the same situation 
  • Causation is the evidence to establish a direct cause and effect between the defendant’s negligent acts and the plaintiff’s injuries
  • Injury is the evidence of the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and the quantification (in dollars) of such injuries 
  • Proximate cause is the sufficient and foreseeable connection between the defendant’s negligence and other injuries suffered by the plaintiff 
Breach of duty
Civil fault 
Civil lawsuit
Comparative negligence 
Compensatory damages
Contributory negligence
Direct damages
Duty of care 
General damages 
Hand Formula 
Indirect damages
Negligent claims
Proximate cause
Reasonable care 
Reasonableness test 
Strict liability
Evidence law 
Injury law 
Medical malpractice 
Negligent definition 
Personal injury 
Personal injury lawyer 
Plaintiff definition 
Professional negligence 
Rules of civil procedure

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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