What are the Basic Elements of Negligence Claims?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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There are several types of negligence claims, but generally each is based on the same four basic elements. First, there is duty, which refers to the obligation of one party to act. Second is breach of duty, referring to the obligated party’s failure to act. The third element, cause, requires that a relationship be shown between an action and a result. The fourth element of negligence requires proof that harm was actually done.

A legal offense is usually composed of several defined parts, which are commonly referred to as elements. This holds true with negligence claims as well. To successfully prove negligence, the plaintiff is generally required to prove all elements, meaning that the inability to prove any one is likely to destroy the case.

The first thing that a plaintiff must show is that the defendant had a duty to act. A lifeguard, for example, has a duty to help an individual who is drowning. Another leisure swimmer, however, is not likely to have this responsibility, so the plaintiff is not likely to have a case against her.


Negligence claims are usually based on the principle that a person with a duty should provide a certain standard of care. If not, that individual may be deemed negligent. As such, the plaintiff who nearly drowns may successfully sue the lifeguard or the lifeguard’s employer for failure to assist. Even if the lifeguard makes an insufficient attempt, such as tossing out a life preserver instead of diving into the water to make a rescue, it may be found that she breached her duty.

The third element of a negligence claim is cause. This is the part of the plaintiff’s case where she must establish that the way the defendant acted or failed to act had an effect. A negligence lawsuit is not generally the means to rectify a situation, wherein a person simply performs poorly or fails to perform but no one is harmed.

Furthermore, it is commonly held that the effect must have been a foreseeable result of the cause. That a struggling swimmer may suffer physically if she is not aided may be deemed foreseeable and therefore may be worthy of a lawsuit. That a neighbor who witnesses the incident has coronary problems and experiences a heart attack as a result probably will not be deemed foreseeable and may not substantiate a valid case.

Finally, the fourth element that needs to be established is harm. It may be prove that a lifeguard has a duty to assist an ailing swimmer. It may be prove that she failed to do so. As a result of her actions, the individual may have had a scare, believing that she would drown. If she was rescued by another swimmer before any real harm occurred, however, then there is no cause for a lawsuit. Negligence require some type of injury.


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I found these links to be very informative and will help me with questions for my lawyer in my lawsuit for Jones Act and Negligence.

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