Determining Liability and Negligence in a Car Accident Case

If you’ve been in a car accident and think that the other person is at fault, you probably feel that you are entitled to compensation and may want to pursue legal action. But thinking it and proving it are two different things.

In order to prove that the other party was at fault, it must be shown that the driver was negligent. This basically means that the person acted in a way that showed disregard for their duty to drive safely on the road, and this resulted in injury to you.

Indeed, most car accident lawsuits are based on negligence; after all, no one plans to cause a car accident. So a negligence claim involves a complete analysis of the situation and circumstances leading up to the accident. It must be established that the party at fault failed to follow their duty of safety when behind the wheel.

The basic elements of a negligence claim are:

Unless you went to law school or work for an insurance company, you probably have only a vague idea of what these terms mean. In this article we break down each of these elements to help you understand how they relate to your claim.

Duty of Care

This basic concept is a very important principle in the law, and relates to more than just traffic laws. It means that each person has a legal obligation to adhere to a reasonable standard of care and avoid acts or omissions that would likely cause harm to others.

As it relates to driving, duty of care means that every licensed driver has a basic legal duty to operate their motor vehicle in a way that is not potentially harmful to others – including other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. – or to property. This is fairly straightforward: don’t speed, don’t drive recklessly, obey road signs and traffic lights, use turn signals, etc. Traffic laws are simply a way to express, or codify, what it means to drive safely.

Breach of Duty

Breach of duty means a breach, or failure to observe, the duty of care noted above. If a driver operates their vehicle in a way that could cause harm to others or to property, that driver has breached the duty that they owe to others. The “reasonable person” standard is used, that is, what would a reasonable person have done in that situation? Did the driver accused of negligence behave in such a manner, or would a reasonable person have acted differently and been more careful? If it is established that the driver did not act in that manner, or if the driver violated traffic laws in some way, it means that the driver was negligent.

If the breach of duty involved a violation of traffic laws or a citation from law enforcement, this can go a long way in proving negligence.


Proving beach of duty is necessary, but another element is involved. It must be proved that the breach of duty actually caused the claimant’s injuries or damage to their property. This means that, had the driver been more careful, the accident would not have happened. There must be a relationship between the conduct and the result.

Causation can be broken into two categories: cause-in-fact and proximate cause.

Cause-in-fact: Means that the breach of duty was the direct cause of the accident. An example would be if a driver fails to stop for a red light and strikes a car in the intersection that has the right of way.

Proximate cause: Means that the breach of duty indirectly led to the accident and/or injury. An example of proximate cause would be if a drunk driver runs into a utility pole and it falls on a car, damaging it and perhaps injuring its occupants.


The losses and costs associated with the accident and/or injury must be expressed in monetary amounts. These are the damages. Damages include lost wages, medical expenses, and costs associated with repairing or replacing property. The plaintiff must be able to express damages in numbers, otherwise the claim could be reduced or denied.

Damages also come in two categories: economic and non-economic.

Economic damages: Concrete amounts with supporting documentation. Examples would be the repair bill for your car, medical bills, and how much you lost in wages because of being out of work.

Non-economic damage: For example, psychological trauma or the all-encompassing “pain and suffering.”

Related: How to Sue After a Car Accident in Tampa

Examples of Negligence

Following are some examples of negligence on the road that could lead to the plaintiff being awarded damages:

Failure to obey traffic laws: Running stop signs or red lights, failure to observe speed limits, texting while driving (illegal in most states), and driving too slowly all qualify as breach of care.

Failure to maintain alertness: This is part of the duty of care; drivers must be alert at all times so they can react properly to unexpected occurrences or road conditions. Distracted driving caused by cell phone use while driving – even if not illegal – is becoming more and more common and could be considered a breach of care.

Failure to maintain control of the vehicle: Sudden stops or lane changes, swerving, or losing control because of excessive speed are some examples.

Failure to maintain the vehicle’s equipment or use it properly: Broken headlights and bad brakes can lead to accidents. Failure to use turn signals or dim high beams are examples of not using the vehicle’s equipment properly.

Shared Fault

In some cases, it is determined that both drivers were partially at fault. This is often expressed as a percentage by insurance companies for the purpose of determining the paying of damages. An injured driver-claimant may recover less in damages, or none at all, if it is determined that they were at fault or partially at fault which is known under Florida law as comparative fault.


This is a term applied to insurance, meaning that accident victims can recover financial losses from their own insurance company, regardless of who was at fault for payment of their own medical bills. A lawsuit can be filed only if a permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability occurred, if there was significant permanent scarring and or someone died. This is under Florida statute section 627.727.

Related: What to Do If You’ve Been Rear-Ended in a Car Accident in Tampa, FL

Consult a Tampa Car Accident Attorney

If you have been involved in a car accident in Tampa, FL, call the Tampa car accident lawyers at Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case. Jack Bernstein has over 36 years of experience representing car accident victims in Tampa and will advise you about the negligence laws in the state of Florida and help you navigate the complex legal process of recovering damages.

Call (813) 333-6666 today to speak with Jack personally about your case.

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