Car Crash Cases: How Is Negligence Defined?

Whether in Orange, Los Angeles, or any other California county, a person who causes someone else to suffer personal injury can become liable whenever he or she is considered negligent under the law.

Definition of Negligence in Car Crash Cases

Whether in Orange, Los Angeles, or any other California county, a person who causes someone else to suffer personal injury can become liable whenever he or she is considered negligent under the law, explains a lawyer. Negligence has a specific legal definition, however, and it is important to understand this definition to determine if someone was in fact lax in a way that will create legal liability.

Civil Negligence in the State of California

California Civil Code Section 1714 states, in part, that, "Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of… willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person…" This section of the civil code establishes a legal right in the state of California to file a tort or civil lawsuit against an individual who fails to exercise the required care.

The failure to exercise ordinary care has come to be known as "negligence," and civil lawsuits brought against a defendant who is negligent are known as "negligence torts." This is a distinct category of civil lawsuits, separate from intentional torts, which occur when one person hurts another on purpose.

Because negligence can subject an individual to civil liability, it is important to understand how a court will determine when an individual is negligent in a personal injury claim involving a car crash.

Defining Negligence

The legal definition of negligence is not necessarily the same as a general definition of negligence used in other contexts. Proving negligence in a legal sense requires proving not only that a breach of ordinary care occurred, but also that some duty to exercise care was owed in the first place. A driver owes a duty of care to other drivers to obey the rules of the road and make safe driving decisions.

Because different types of duties exist, different standards have been developed to judge negligence. For instance, in an ordinary negligence case such as one brought against the driver in a car accident, an objective reasonable person test is used.

The first step of any negligence case, therefore, involves establishing that a duty exists and establishing what that duty is. Only then can it be determined if the duty was breached and negligence in fact existed.

Objective Reasonable Person Standard

In an ordinary negligence case like a car accident case, the test for negligence is whether a hypothetical ordinary person would have been more careful. The defendant's age, background, mental condition, knowledge or abilities and experience aren't relevant. Instead, the defendant is judged based on the jury's idea of what is normal within the community as a whole.

For example, it is a widely accepted fact in our society that alcohol, when consumed in large quantities, impairs people’s reaction time and coordination, two faculties necessary for operating a motor vehicle. A hypothetical normal person would acknowledge the risk to others’ lives of driving after drinking and opt not to. People who ignore or fail to consider the risks and choose to drive are not only breaking the law but also will be considered negligent if an accident occurs.

Drivers who cause fatal or injury car accidents while impaired may also face criminal charges, explains a lawyer. Many in Orange County may remember the case of Andrew Thomas Gallo, a repeat DUI offender who was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and other felonies and sentenced to 51 years to life in prison after causing a crash that killed three people and critically injured a fourth in Fullerton. More than two hours after the accident, his blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit, reported the Los Angeles Times.

There are a few limited exceptions to the objective reasonable persons standard, such as when very young children commit torts and are judged based on what a child of the same age would have done. Outside of these exceptions, if an average hypothetical person off the street would have been more careful in the same situation, the defendant will be considered legally negligent.

Understanding Different Negligence Rules

Car accidents are just one example of where negligence may arise after someone is injured or killed as a result of the actions of another. In all cases, the purpose is to hold someone responsible when he or she acts in a manner that breaks the social codes people have come to depend on. Without negligence laws, the victim of someone's careless behavior would be left to bear the financial and emotional burdens of that negligence without receiving compensation from the person who caused the harm.

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