In car accidents as well as slip-and-fall cases, the legal theory under which you might recover is called negligence. The person presenting the claim is called a “claimant” before a lawsuit is filed and called a “plaintiff” after the suit is filed. Notably, many times our clients settle before filing a lawsuit.
To prove negligence, we must first identify whether the at-fault party (called a defendant) had a “legal duty” toward the Claimant. In other words, does federal or Florida law impose a duty on the Defendant to act, or to refrain from acting, in some way that somehow pertains to the safety and welfare of the claimant. For example, a Florida driver has a legal duty to drive his car in a reasonable manner, with the safety of himself and others in mind.
Secondly, we must identify evidence that the defendant broke (we say “breached”) that legal duty. In other words, we’re looking at whether the defendant did something contrary to her duty. For example, did she run a stop sign and run into the claimant’s car? She had a legal duty to stop, but didn’t.
Thirdly, we identify evidence about whether the breach of duty caused injury or damage to the Claimant. Causation can often be the most important issue in a case, i.e., whether the slip-and-fall caused the claimant to have back problems, compared to whether she had similar back problems BEFORE the fall.
Lastly, we must find and present evidence about what injuries or damage the defendant caused the plaintiff. For example, we identify the medical expenses, lost wages, and mental anguish our clients suffer as a result of the defendant’s negligent actions. According to Florida law, an injured party in a car accident case must prove she sustained a permanent injury as a direct result of the accident before she may be awarded money for pain & suffering, mental anguish and other non-economic damages.
In summary, in negligence cases such as car accidents, we search for evidence that the a) at-fault party had a legal duty toward our client; b) that the at-fault party breached that duty; c) that the breach caused injury to our client; and, d) whether our client sustained damages directly due to the at-fault party’s breach of legal duty.