The obligation to act with care may arise out of a relationship established by contract, as in the duty assumed by a common carrier (e.g., a railroad) in preserving goods and passengers from damage or injury. But the law also supposes that all persons in the ordinary course of conduct have a duty to avoid inflicting injuries on others. In all noncontractual situations this duty is to act as a "reasonable, prudent person" would act. Injury that results despite such conduct or from circumstances beyond human control (see, e.g., act of God) is not compensable, although the doctrine of strict liability makes those engaged in certain trades and services liable despite non-negligent conduct.
It is usually the function of a jury to determine whether negligence occurred, and the obligation of the plaintiff to demonstrate the defendant's negligence by a preponderance of the evidence. On the other hand, in cases where due care must have been absent (e.g., where a drink bottled at the defendant's plant contains a dead mouse), the judge may apply the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur [Lat.,=the thing speaks for itself] and rule that there was negligence as a matter of law; this obliges the defendant to demonstrate the absence of negligence. In cases where both parties share responsibility for negligence, the law allows reduced damages based on the doctrine of comparative negligence. Thus, a driver who ignored a red light might not recover fully for an injury caused by another driver who was speeding through the intersection; responsibility might instead be assigned, for instance, as belonging 70% to the speeder and 30% to the ignorer of the traffic signal, whose damages for injury would be limited by subtraction from a full recovery.
Negligence law has been of great importance to consumer groups, who have won huge awards of actual and punitive damages, especially from the manufacturers of various goods. In the 1990s business groups and their congressional allies have pushed for federalization of U.S. negligence law, with statutory limitation of forms of damages, arguing that almost all commerce is now interstate and that the threat of large damage awards has been inhibiting American enterprise. Opponents respond that negligence has historically been one of few legal actions useful to the relatively powerless in American society, and that business has not suffered as it claims.
At common law, the right to recover for negligence belonged to the injured party only; his or her death terminated a lawsuit, and heirs might not recover. Today, all jurisdictions have statutes permitting heirs to bring suit for wrongful death and for injuries to the deceased. Negligence claims are the chief source of modern civil litigation. Most cases arise from vehicular traffic accidents; the widespread adoption of no-fault insurance may, however, reduce the role of negligence law in the future. Besides its civil aspects, negligence may also be an aspect of a criminal prosecution, if it results in manslaughter or if it is a serious breach of a public duty (e.g., carelessness by the engineer of a train). In medical, psychotherapeutic, legal, and other professional relationships, negligence, which is measured against generally accepted knowledge and practice standards, is called malpractice.
In law, failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in protecting others from a risk of harm. It may render one civilly and sometimes criminally liable for resulting injuries. The doctrine of negligence does not require the elimination of all risk, but rather only foreseeable and unreasonable risk. Thus a higher standard applies to explosives manufacturers than to manufacturers of kitchen matches. The plaintiff must ordinarily prove the defendant's negligence with a preponderance of evidence. Seealso contributory negligence.
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In law, behaviour that contributes to one's own injury or loss and fails to meet the standard of prudence that one should observe for one's own good. Contributory negligence of the plaintiff is frequently pleaded in defense to a charge of negligence. In Engish law and in the law of many U.S. states, if the plaintiff is shown to have contributed through negligence to his own injury, recovery may still be allowed, but provision is made for an equitable reduction of damages. Contributory negligence has been criticized by some authorities because it effectively excuses one party (the defendant) even though both were negligent.
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"those who go personally or bring property where they know that they or it may come into collision with the persons or property of others have by law a duty cast upon them to use reasonable care and skill to avoid such a collision."
Through civil litigation, if an injured person proves that another person acted negligently to cause his injury, he can recover damages to compensate for his harm. Proving a case for negligence can potentially entitle the injured plaintiff to compensation for harm to their body, property, mental well-being, financial status, or intimate relationships. However, because negligence cases are very fact-specific, this general definition does not fully explain the concept of when the law will require one person to compensate another for losses caused by accidental injury. Further, the law of negligence at common law is only one aspect of the law of liability. Although resulting damages must be proved in order to recover compensation in a negligence action, the nature and extent of those damages are not the primary focus of negligence cases.
The case of Donoghue v. Stevenson  illustrates the law of negligence, laying the foundations of the fault principle around the Commonwealth. Plaintiff Ms. Donoghue drank ginger beer given to her by a friend, who bought it from a shop. The beer was supplied by a manufacturer under a certain Mr. Stevenson of Scotland. While drinking the drink, Ms. Donoghue discovered the remains of an allegedly decomposed snail. She then sued Mr. Stevenson, though there was no relationship of contract, as the friend had made the payment. As there was no contract the doctrine of privity prevented a direct action against the manufacturer, Mr David Stevenson. In his ruling, justice Lord MacMillan presiding over the case defined a new category of tort, (which is really not based on negligence but on what is now known as the "implied warranty of fitness of a product" in a completely different category of tort--"products liability") because it was analogous to previous cases about people hurting each other. Lord Atkin interpreted the biblical passages to 'love thy neighbour,' as the legal requirement to 'not harm thy neighbour.' He then went on to define neighbour as "persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions that are called in question." Reasonably foreseeable harm must be compensated. This is the first principle of negligence. In England the more recent case of Caparo v. Dickman  introduced a 'threefold test' for a duty of care. Harm must be (1) reasonably foreseeable (2) there must be a relationship of proximity between the plaintiff and defendant and (3) it must be 'fair, just and reasonable' to impose liability. However, these act as guidelines for the courts in establishing a duty of care; much of the principle is still at the discretion of judges.
Once it is established that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff/claimant, the matter of whether or not that duty was breached must be settled. The test is both subjective and objective. The defendant who knowingly (subjective) exposes the plaintiff/claimant to a substantial risk of loss, breaches that duty. The defendant who fails to realize the substantial risk of loss to the plaintiff/claimant, which any reasonable person in the same situation would clearly have realized, also breaches that duty.
Breach of duty is not restricted to professionals or persons under written or oral contract; all members of society have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward others and their property. A person who engages in activities that pose an unreasonable risk toward others and their property that actually results in harm, breaches their duty of reasonable care. An example is shown in the facts of Bolton v. Stone, a 1951 legal case decided by the House of Lords which established that a defendant is not negligent if the damage to the plaintiff was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his conduct. In the case, a Miss Stone was struck on the head by a cricket ball while standing outside her house. Cricket balls were not normally hit a far enough distance to pose a danger to people standing as far away as was Miss Stone. Although she was injured, the court held that she did not have a legitimate claim because the danger was not sufficiently foreseeable. As stated in the opinion, 'Reasonable risk' cannot be judged with the benefit of hindsight. As Lord Denning said in Roe v. Minister of Health, the past should not be viewed through rose coloured spectacles. Therefore, there was no negligence on the part of the medical professionals in a case faulting them for using contaminated medical jars because the scientific standards of the time indicated a low possibility of medical jar contamination. Even if some were harmed, the professionals took reasonable care for risk to their patients.
For the rule in the U.S., see: Calculus of negligence
Asbestos litigations which have been ongoing for decades revolve around the issue of causation. Interwoven with the simple idea of a party causing harm to another are issues on insurance bills and compensations, which sometimes drove compensating companies out of business.
Sometimes factual causation is distinguished from 'legal causation' to avert the danger of defendants being exposed to, in the words of Cardozo, J., "liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class. It is said a new question arises of how remote a consequence a person's harm is from another's negligence. We say that one's negligence is 'too remote' (in England) or not a 'proximate cause' (in the U.S.) of another's harm if one would 'never' reasonably foresee it happening. Note that a 'proximate cause' in U.S. terminology (to do with the chain of events between the action and the injury) should not be confused with the 'proximity test' under the English duty of care (to do with closeness of relationship). The idea of legal causation is that if no one can foresee something bad happening, and therefore take care to avoid it, how could anyone be responsible?
For instance, in Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co. the judge decided that the defendant, a railway was not liable for an injury suffered by a distant bystander. The plaintiff, Palsgraf, was hit by scales that fell on her as she waited on a train platform. The scales fell because of a far-away commotion. A train conductor had run to help a man into a departing train. The man was carrying a package as he jogged to jump in the train door. The package had fireworks in it. The conductor mishandled the passenger or his package, causing the package to fall. The fireworks slipped and exploded on the ground causing shockwaves to travel through the platform. As a consequence, the scales fell. Because Ms. Palsgraf was hurt by the falling scales, she sued the train company who employed the conductor for negligence..
The defendant train company argued it should not be liable as a matter of law, because despite the fact that they employed the employee, who was negligent, his negligence was too remote from the plaintiff's injury. On appeal, the court agreed, however, it was divided when it came time to explain the reason why the defendant was not liable. One view was that the defendant owed no duty of care to the defendant, because a duty was owed only to foreseeable plaintiffs. This was the view advanced by Judge Cardozo. The other view was that the defendant owed a duty to the defendant, regardless of foreseeability, because all men owe one another a duty not to act negligently. This was the view advanced by Judge Andrews. According to Andrews, however, the defendant still should not be liable because, despite having owed a duty, and breached it, the breach was not the proximate cause of the injury.
This difference of opinion in the role of remoteness continues to trouble American courts. Courts follow Cardozo's view have greater control in negligence cases. If the court can find that, as a matter of law, the defendant owed no duty of care to the plaintiff, the plaintiff will lose his case for negligence before having a chance to present to the jury. Cardozo's view is the majority view. However, some courts follow the position put forth by Judge Andrews. In jurisdictions following the minority rule, defendants must phrase their remoteness arguments in terms of proximate cause if they wish the court to take the case away from the jury.
Remoteness takes another form, seen in the Wagon Mound No. 2. The Wagon Mound was a ship in Sydney harbour. The Wagon Mound was a ship which leaked oil creating a slick in part of the harbour. The wharf owner asked the ship owner about the danger and was told he could continue his work because the slick would not burn. The wharf owner allowed work to continue on the wharf, which sent sparks onto a rag in the water which ignited and created a fire which burnt down the wharf. The UK House of Lords determined that the wharf owner 'intervened' in the causal chain, creating a responsibility for the fire which canceled out the liability of the ship owner. In Australia, the concept of remoteness, or proximity, was tested with the case of Jaensch v. Coffey. The wife of a policeman, Mrs Jaensch suffered a nervous shock injury from the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident although she was not actually at the scene at the time of the accident. The court upheld in addition to it being reasonably foreseeable that his wife might suffer such an injury, it also required that there be sufficient proximity between the plaintiff and the defendant who caused the accident. Here there was sufficient causal proximity.
The pecuniary loss requirement can be shown in a number of ways. A plaintiff who is physically injured by allegedly negligent conduct may show that he had to pay a medical bill. If his property is damaged, he could show the income lost because he could not use it, the cost to repair it (although he could only recover for one of these things). For example, if a plaintiff is in a car accident, he may have evidence of how much it cost for a professional to repair the car.
The damage may be physical (e.g. personal injury), economic (e.g. pure financial loss), or both (e.g. financial loss of earnings consequent on a personal injury), reputational (e.g. in a defamation case), or in relationships where a family may have lost a wage earner through a negligent act. In English law, at least, the right to claim for purely economic loss is limited to a number of 'special' and clearly defined circumstances, often related to the nature of the duty to the plaintiff as between clients and lawyers, financial advisers, and other professions where money is central to the consultative services.
Emotional distress has been recognized as compensable in the case of negligence. The general rule was that emotional distress damages had to be parasitic. That is, the plaintiff could recover for emotional distress caused by injury, but only if it accompanied a physical or pecuniary injury. A plaintiff who came to court having suffered only emotional distress and no pecuniary loss would not win a suit for negligence. However, a modern trend allows recovery for a plaintiff to recover for negligence causing him purely emotional distress under certain circumstances. The state courts of California allowed recovery for emotional distress alone even in the absence of any physical injury to the plaintiff, when the defendant physically injures a relative of the plaintiff, and the plaintiff witnesses it.
One of the main tests that is posed when deliberating whether a defendant is entitled to compensation for a tort, is the "reasonable person". The test is self-explanatory: would a reasonable person (as determined by a judge or jury) be damaged by the breach of duty. Simple as the "reasonable person" test sounds, it is very complicated. It is a risky test because it involves the opinion of either the judge or the jury that can be based on limited facts. However, as vague as the "reasonable person" test seems, it is extremely important in deciding whether or not a defendant is entitled to compensation for a negligence tort.
Damages are, in general, compensatory and not punitive in nature. This means that the amount paid matches the plaintiff/claimant's actual loss (in cases involving physical injury, the amount awarded should aim to compensate for the pain and suffering). It is not the court's intention to punish the defendant. The award should be sufficient so as to put the plaintiff/claimant back in the position he or she was before the tort was committed and no more, because otherwise the plaintiff/claimant would actually profit from the tort. The award of damages may include the following heads of damage:
The elements allow a defendant to test a plaintiff's accusations before trial, as well as providing a guide to the finder of fact to decide whether the defendant is or is not liable, after the trial. Whether the case is resolved with or without trial again depends heavily on the particular facts of the case, and the ability of the parties to frame the issues to the court. The duty and causation elements in particular give the court the greatest opportunity to take the case from the jury, because they directly involve questions of policy. The court can find that regardless of the disputed facts, if any, the case can be resolved as a matter of law from undisputed facts, because two people in the position of the plaintiff and defendant simply cannot be legally responsible to one another for negligent injury.
On appeal, the court reviewing a decision in a negligence case will analyze in terms of at least one of these elements, depending on the disposition of the case and the question on appeal. For example, if it is an appeal from a final judgment after a jury verdict, the reviewing court will look to see that the jury was properly instructed on each contested element, and that the record shows sufficient evidence for the jury's findings. On an appeal from a dismissal or judgment against the plaintiff without trial, the court will review de novo whether the court below properly found that the plaintiff could not prove any or all of his case.