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What is negligence?


What is Negligence?

In everyday conversations, we often hear people use the term negligence.  People tend to loosely use the term to mean that some company or some person did something wrong.  So, what does negligence mean?

In basic terms, Black’s Law Dictionary defines negligence as “the failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation.”  Under West Virginia law, a cause of action (or legal claim) for negligence is made up of four basic elements: (1) a duty owed; (2) the breach of the duty owed; (3) causation; and (4) damages. See Atkinson v. Harman, 151 W. Va. 1025, 1026, 158 S.E.2d 169, 171 (1967); Carter v. Monsanto Co., 212 W. Va. 732, 737, 575 S.E.2d 342, 347 (W.Va. 2002). 

When defining the four basic elements of negligence:

  • Duty– a duty is simply a standard of reasonable care that a reasonable company or person should exercise. “The ultimate test of the existence of a duty to use care is found in the foreseeability that harm may result if it is not exercised.  The test is, would the ordinary man [or woman] in the defendant’s position, knowing what he [or she] knew or should have known, anticipate that harm of the general nature of that suffered was likely to result?”  pt. 3, Sewell v. Gregory, 179 W.Va. 585, 371 S.E.2d 82 (W.Va. 1988).
  • Breach of a duty– a breach of a duty is simply the failure of a company or person to act in a reasonably prudent manner to avoid harming another.
  • Proximate cause- the proximate cause is the last negligent act contributing thereto, without which such injury would not have resulted. See Pt. 3, Smith v. Penn Line Service, Inc., 145 W. Va. 1, 113 S.E.2d 505 (W.Va. 1960).
  • Damages- damages mean exactly that: harms and losses flowing from the negligent conduct.

We all share time and space on Earth together.  We should all act in a reasonably prudent manner to avoid exposing others to risks of harm.  This keeps everyone safe.  It’s also the right thing to do.  All liability (except where ultra-hazardous activity is involved) is based solely upon fault.  “The liability to make reparation for an injury, by negligence, is founded upon an original moral duty, enjoined upon every person, so to conduct himself [or herself], or exercise his [or her] own rights, as not to injur [sic] another.”  Syl. Pt. 1, Robertson v. LeMaster, 171 W. Va. 607, 301 S.E.2d 563 (W.Va. 1983)(emphasis added).

When applying these principles to everyday events, some examples where negligence may be involved include: car accidents; truck accidents; motorcycle accidents; tractor trailer accidents; pedestrian accidents; slip and fall accidents; and medical malpractice.

If you or your loved one has been injured as the result of negligence, call Barney Law PLLC at 304-932-8775 or contact us through our website.  The initial consultation is always free and you owe us nothing unless we recover for you.