What is Negligence Per Se?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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Negligence per se is a legal doctrine which is applied to situations in which the violation of a law is deemed an automatically negligent act. Someone who is harmed as a direct result of the violation of a law which is intended to protect members of the general public from harm can bring suit on the grounds of negligence per se. If the court agrees with the grounds of the suit, damages can be awarded. This is true whether or not the respondent to the suit was separately sanctioned by a criminal court for violating the law.

There are several characteristics which must be present in order for negligence per se to apply to a case. The first is that the respondent violated a law and that someone experienced direct harm as a result of the violation. For example, someone who fails to stop at a stop sign and hits a wheelchair user who is crossing the street has broken the law and harmed someone in the process. It is also necessary to show that the law was intended to protect people from harm; in this example, this is definitely true, as one reason people must stop at stop signs is to allow people to safely cross the street.


Normally, in negligence cases, it must be shown that someone acted with failure to care, which means that a "reasonable person" in the same situation would have taken precautions to prevent the events which ensued. In negligence per se cases, the law itself is the standard of care; the plaintiff does not need to prove how a reasonable person would have acted, but merely to demonstrate that a law was violated. This may be done with the assistance of witnesses or other proof which shows that the cause of an injury was the violation of a law intended to prevent injuries.

Traffic infractions are common subjects of such cases, as traffic laws have been developed with public safety in mind and the violation of such laws can result in injuries. Certain other situations can also result in a case in which someone is required to pay damages as a result of negligence per se. For example, in the United States, doctors are required to provide emergency care. If someone reports to a hospital for treatment and the doctor on duty refuses treatment, this can be grounds for a negligence case because the doctor is breaking the law and the patient will sustain injuries as a result. Violations of the building code can also be involved in negligence per se cases.


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