What is negligence and how to prove it

What Is Negligence & How to Prove It in California?

Authored by:

Attorney William Green from Delfino Green & Green Law


William Green
Mr. Green has made a career of championing the rights of the most vulnerable members of society against the most powerful corporations, government entities, and insurance companies. Where most attorneys take on “a case,” Mr. Green takes on clients and their cause.

Reviewed by:


Delfino Green & Green
For over 30 years, the highly skilled and experienced attorneys at Delfino Green & Green have been protecting the rights of individuals throughout California. We work hard to hold negligent parties accountable for their actions that caused injuries, insurance companies responsible for their promises to pay disability benefits, and employers accountable for their commitment to protecting their employees in the workplace.


At Delfino, Green & Green, we specialize in protecting the rights of injury victims in the Bay Area and beyond. If you’ve suffered serious injuries as a result of someone’s negligent behavior, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact us online to schedule a free consultation. When someone’s reckless actions cause you to be seriously injured, the fact that they “didn’t do it on purpose” isn’t much of a consolation. The reality is that some situations require a level of responsibility that goes beyond simply not wishing someone harm. For example, suppose a distracted driver was texting with friends when they ran a red light and t-boned your vehicle. Even though they didn’t set out to hurt you, they didn’t take the necessary steps to NOT hurt you, either. The driver’s actions are an example of negligence, meaning you—the injured party—may be eligible to receive compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. However, in order to do so, you will need to prove the elements of negligence outlined by California law. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. As top personal injury lawyers in the Bay Area, we’ve built our careers on advocating for injury victims’ rights after they’ve been hurt by negligence. If someone’s reckless actions have harmed you or a loved one, we may be able to help secure compensation for your losses. This article will detail everything you need to know about what is negligence and how to prove it in California. Need help right now? Our legal experts are here for you. Getting started is as simple as contacting our law firm to schedule your free consultation with a compassionate attorney. 

What Is Negligence?

You may already have some idea of what negligence means, but in legal terms, it refers to a very specific occurrence. Cornell Law School defines negligence as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” Although negligence typically refers to someone’s actions, it can also describe someone’s inaction in a situation in which they should have acted. In these cases, a person’s duty doesn’t necessarily mean a legal duty; it may also refer to a duty based on custom, morality or personal commitment. If you’re unfamiliar with the legal minutiae in regards to negligence, don’t worry—most people are. The reality is that the laws surrounding negligence and liability aren’t always straightforward and often involve ambiguous terms. That’s why it’s smart to consult with a personal injury lawyer, even if you’re unsure about whether your injury was caused by negligence.

How Do I Prove Negligence in California?

After you and your lawyer have determined that negligence played a part in your injury, you have to face the more difficult task: proving it. Fortunately, experienced injury attorneys understand that winning a negligence-based case requires demonstrating that a few crucial elements were at play. To win your negligence case in California, you will need to prove the following:
  1. The defendant owed you a duty or standard of care, whether it was to act or to refrain from acting.
  2. The defendant breached or “neglected” their duty.
  3. The defendant’s breach of duty caused your injuries.
  4. The defendant’s actions (or inaction) were the proximate cause of your injuries.
  5. You suffered actual damages as a result, which could include both economic and non-economic losses such as medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.
Although most states define negligence in a similar way, they differ in how they allow negligence to be shared between parties. California operates under the legal doctrine of pure comparative negligence, meaning a plaintiff can sue for the percentage of damages attributable to the defendant. However, it’s important to note that your collectable damages are limited by the defendant’s actual degree of fault. For example, if the court determines the defendant was only 10% at fault for your injuries, your settlement will be much smaller than if the defendant is found 90% at fault.

Common Defenses to Negligence

Just because you and your lawyer believe negligence played a role in your accident doesn’t mean you’ll automatically win your case. In fact, an inexperienced personal injury lawyer may be thwarted by a number of defenses, which is why it’s critical for injury victims to thoroughly research their attorney options before committing to legal counsel. If you’re pursuing a personal injury case, you’ll want to make sure it can stand up against the following potential defenses:
  • The defendant didn’t owe you a duty of care. One of the most basic arguments used by defense attorneys is that the defendant didn’t owe you a duty of care. They may claim they had no duty to act on your behalf, but for many defendants—especially property owners, business owners and drivers—that simply isn’t true.
  • You were the one responsible for your injuries, not the defendant. The best way to combat this defense is to partner with a skilled personal injury lawyer who will conduct their own investigation of the accident. Remember: Even if you were partially responsible, you may still be able to receive compensation under California’s pure comparative negligence doctrine.
  • You assumed the risk of injury. Sometimes a defendant will claim that you engaged in inherently risky activities, and as a result, they shouldn’t be held responsible for any accidents that occurred. However, even in cases where the plaintiff signed a liability waiver, the defendant often has a duty to exercise reasonable care in preventing injuries.
Ultimately, the defendant can use any number of arguments to try to weaken your personal injury claim. That’s why it’s so important to choose a personal injury lawyer who has experience with winning cases like yours, whether it’s a product liability case, car accident case or a different type of personal injury lawsuit.

Proving Negligence in a Personal Injury Case: FAQs

Legal terminology is complex, and wading through the ambiguities without guidance can just leave you more confused. Although the best clarity will come from your attorney, you may find the answers you’re looking for in our frequently asked questions. How can I tell if one of the parties involved in my accident was negligent? To truly establish a negligence claim, you’ll need to speak with a legal expert. However, you can generally assume negligence was involved if the party who caused your injuries acted in a way that a “reasonably prudent person” would not have. Who is a “reasonably prudent person” under California law? Rather than referring to an actual person, the term “reasonably prudent person” refers to a legal standard. Essentially, it is used to represent how an average or reasonable person would respond in the same circumstances and does not take into account the defendant’s specific skill set, intelligence, etc. What if my injury was caused by multiple factors? If your accident was caused by more than one negligent party, you may be able to pursue compensation from both. In these cases, a jury may assign each party a percentage of liability for your injuries. What is gross negligence? Some actions are so extreme that they go beyond regular negligence yet don’t cross into intentional wrongdoing. The legal term for this behavior is gross negligence and is defined as willful disregard for another’s life or property and wanton, reckless conduct. Can I afford to hire a personal injury lawyer? Yes! You can afford a personal injury attorney regardless of your financial situation. That’s because we work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t owe us a dime upfront. We collect our fees from your settlement, which means if we don’t win, you don’t owe us anything. Have more questions? We’ve got answers. All you need to do is take the first step by scheduling a free case evaluation.

Delfino, Green & Green: Top Personal Injury Lawyers in California

No matter what type of personal injury you’ve suffered—whether it was caused by a collision, a slip-and-fall, a motor vehicle accident or something else—you deserve to explore your legal options with an expert in the field. Luckily, our compassionate attorneys are ready to help protect your future. Not sure whether or not you need an attorney? Googling “what is negligence and how to prove it” is a pretty good indicator that you might. Save yourself some time and contact us to speak with an attorney from one of the most trusted firms in the San Francisco Bay Area: Delfino, Green & Green. Ready to pursue the compensation you deserve? Visit us online or give us a call at (415) 442-4646 to schedule a free appointment today.
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