Common Elements of a Personal Injury Case

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For every personal injury claim, four elements need to be met. If all four elements are met, and the jury is convinced that they are met, then the plaintiff is likely awarded just compensation for the damages they suffered. The elements are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. We will be applying them to car accident claims.

Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care

Everyone driving on the road owes a duty of care. The existence of that duty is the first step in your negligence claim. In the case of a car accident, it needs to be established that the person at fault owed a duty to the victim. Normally, this is quite simple to satisfy as long as the victim was in the vicinity of the actor. A duty is owed by pedestrians, motorists, motorcyclists, and bicyclists.

The reasonable care that is owed depends on the situation. For example, if a windstorm blows someone's trampoline into a roadway and it results in a car accident, the court will look to whether the owner of the trampoline reasonably should have secured the trampoline before the windstorm.

Failure to Exercise Reasonable Care

The second element that must be satisfied is that the actor did not meet their duty of reasonable care. It might have been the individual who did something careless, such as texting and driving, failing to stop at a stop sign, or not maintaining their vehicle. Even if the actor did not mean to harm someone, the actor would still be liable for not acting reasonably.

Sometimes, the breach is more severe and amounts to recklessness. This can be flagrant speeding, racing, or drinking and driving. 

Another point to consider is whether the victim was also negligent and contributed to the accident. For example, if a car is driving on a dark country road at night without their lights on, causing another car to not see them while coming around a curve too fast and crashes into them. The victim contributed to the accident with their own negligence, and the court will weigh who is at fault for what, possibly barring recovery entirely.


The third element that must be met is causation. This means that the actor's failure to exercise reasonable care was the actual cause of the injury. The negligence by the actor must have contributed to the accident in question. 

Again, if the victim's actions contributed to the accident, it may reduce the amount to be recovered. But as long as the actor contributed to the accident and is a close cause of the action, the victim can recover. 

For example, a driver comes speeding down the highway and scares a second driver. As a result, this second driver started speeding, feeling anxious, and wanting to get off the roadway as soon as possible. The second driver than can't stop in time and crashes into the back of another vehicle. The first driver, although were it not for his speeding, the other would not have crashed, would be difficult to be held liable as there was a greater cause to the second driver's speeding crash. The second driver's negligence actually caused the crash and will most likely be responsible for the injuries.

Suffered Actual Damages

The final element of an injury claim damage. To recover, there must be actual damages suffered as a result of another's negligence. The purpose of such claims is to compensate the injured, this can be an injury to self or property, but there is nothing to compensate if no injury exists. For example, let's imagine that the second driver in the previous example was speeding, but this time was able to slam on the brakes to stop in time. The would-be victim would not be able to bring any injury claim as there were no damages suffered. 

Some common types of damages that come from injury claims are the following:

  • Lost income
  • Medical costs
  • Vehicle Damages
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Disability.
Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer

An attorney's job is to help determine if all the elements have been met in their client's personal injury claim. The attorney also works to convince the jury if it is questionable whether a certain element has been met. Our experienced Sacramento personal injury attorneys have been working on personal injury claims since 1982 and know what it takes to get our clients the just compensation they deserve. Call us today for free and friendly advice at 916.921.6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400.

Editor's Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy. [cha 7.16.21]

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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