Negligence Per Se and Your Car Accident Claim

After a motor vehicle accident in the San Fernando Valley, one of the most difficult issues to determine is who was at fault. There are some cases where it is very clear who was responsbile for the crash, and the obvious at-fault driver may even admit this. However, it is more likely to find yourself in a situation where the other driver refuses to admit fault, or both you and the other driver believe the other person was the cause.

Generally, you must prove that the other person was negligent by failing to exercise the standard of reasonable care under the circumstances. In other words, to prove negligence, you must show: [1] the defendant had a duty to take risk-reducing precautions and to conform to a specific standard of conduct for your protection, [2] the defendant breached that duty by falling below the applicable standard of care, [3] the breach is the actual and proximate cause of your injuries, and [4] you have suffered damages. An experienced attorney can go over these elements in further detail.

Negligence Per Se

There are a few ways to determine fault in a motor vehicle accident. One relatively simple legal doctrine is "negligence per se," which states that an act is negligent if it violates a law that was designed to protect others and someone was injured because of the violation. Therefore, the accident victim must prove that the at-fault driver violated some law, statute, regulation, or ordinance and the violation of that law was a substantial factor in causing his/her injuries.

If there is an applicable statute, the statute's specific duty may replace the general common law duty of care if: [1] the statute provides for criminal penalty, [2] the statute clearly defines the standard of conduct, [3] the plaintiff is a member of the class of persons that the statute was trying to protect, and [4] the statute was designed to prevent the type or class of harm that the plaintiff suffered.

For example, if a driver strikes someone in the process of violating a traffic law, the driver would most likely be negligent under this doctrine. However, the violation must be the direct cause of the accident. This means that one would be negligent for driving too fast or running a red light and striking someone who was legally in the intersection, while one who is running a red light and is struck by someone driving in the wrong lane would not be negligent under this theory.

Exceptions to Negligence Per Se

Are there exceptions to negligence per se? Yes. Violations of the applicable statute are excused if [a] compliance with the statute is more dangerous than violation or [b] compliance is impossible or beyond the defendant's control. In those cases, you cannot use the statute's specific duty, even if the four-part test above is met.

Effect of Violation and Compliance with the Statute

Violation of the statute means that there was negligence per se, which is conclusive evidence of duty and breach. On the other hand, compliance does not necessarily establish due care.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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