A lot of people are injured every year due to negligence. According to Legal Finance Journal, nearly 27,000 tort lawsuits were filed in 2005 alone. Yet only about four percent of them go to trial. People often overestimate their chances of success, as success rates are rarely better than 50 percent. Therefore, many clients may be left wondering what they actually have to prove in order to recover from a defendant, whether at trial or through a settlement. In general, South Carolina personal injury lawyers must help their clients prove four things in order to succeed in a personal injury lawsuit. A fifth element is sometimes included, but for the sake of simplicity, we only discuss the basic four here.
Did the defendant owe the plaintiff a duty?
The law defines a duty as a legal obligation that someone in the defendant’s position is expected to meet. Depending on the type of case, the duty alleged can vary widely. The question usually boils down to what reasonable people might expect of that person based on the circumstances. There are different levels of duties. Here are just a few examples:
- Auto accidents: All drivers are expected to operate their vehicles with care and reasonably avoid accidents. This includes obeying traffic signals and signs and obeying driving laws.
- Slip and falls and similar premises cases: Those who allow others, especially the general public, onto their personal or business property should exercise care and ensure the property is reasonably safe from hazards and free of conditions that could cause harm to others.
- Professional malpractice: If a physician or other provider injures you, the law is a bit tighter. In general, the question becomes whether the professional acted reasonably in relation to the recognized standard for similarly trained physicians under the same circumstances. This means the standard largely depends on what a reasonable physician or other provider would do under the circumstances – not just a reasonable This usually requires the testimony of experienced experts who can explain these complex standards to a jury.
Did the defendant breach the duty?
This concept simply means it is not enough to owe the plaintiff a duty, but rather, the defendant must have behaved in some way that deviated from what is expected of drivers. So a driver who disobeys a red light disregards safety. This is a breach of the duty that he or she owes other drivers.
Did the plaintiff suffer an injury?
There may be a clear duty, and there may be a clear breach of that duty, but if no harm came of it, then there is no lawsuit. A plaintiff must also prove he or she was injured. Injury can be physical, emotional, or financial. But without some verifiable injury, the plaintiff will not succeed.
Was the injury directly caused by the breach of duty?
This might seem intuitive, but it is quite possibly the most misunderstood concept in tort law. It is called “proximate cause.” Imagine a person with a fractured leg gets into a car accident. The other driver was at fault and breached his duty by running a red light. The driver suffers a broken arm in the accident. While he may be able to sue the defendant for the broken arm, he certainly cannot claim the leg injury, because the negligent breach of duty did not cause that injury. This is a very black and white example. In many instances it is less clear.
As you can see, it is not enough to prove that someone did something wrong. Instead, you must show that they owed you a duty, breached that duty, hurt you, and that the injuries you suffered were directly related to the defendant’s actions. These can be very difficult to prove without expert legal advice. If you are injured in the Charleston area and need aggressive and skilled representation, contact the attorneys of Callihan & Syracuse for a free consultation.