Have you been the victim of an accident? Understand the differences between negligence vs accidents to know your next steps.
Negligence vs Accidents: Which is Which?
“Oops! It was an accident!” is a common refrain we hear on a daily basis. That is because accidents happen on a daily basis. But an injury due to negligence is a different story, especially when that injury is at the hands of a company or organization. Whether that organization can be held legally and financially responsible becomes important to determine due to a concept called negligence.
Negligence in the legal space exists to protect people physically and emotionally from either intentional or unintentional harm of another.
To help you figure out if you’ve been the victim of an accident or negligence—or an accident caused by negligence—check out the definitions and distinctions below.
Accidents vs. Negligence
Calling an incident an accident vs. negligence is significant. While these concepts can and do overlap, determining negligence vs. accident lets courts decide whether someone is potentially entitled to compensation in tort law.
What is an Accident?
An accident is an unforeseen or unintended incident, often with poor consequences that result from carelessness or ignorance. If a human causes an accident, that individual may have legal consequences. The same may be true if a corporation causes an accident.
But not all accidents have human causes. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters resulting in accidents tend to be referred to as “Acts of God.” These unfortunate events cause incalculable damage. These events are also outside of human control. An accident caused by a human or corporation can have legal consequences, while an accident caused by an “Act of God” tends to be outside the scope of the law. This has to do with the concept of negligence, which is discussed below.
What is Negligence?
Negligence is a legal concept that assigns legal (and financial) responsibility of an accident on the perpetrator of the accident. It can result from either an act or a failure to act.
However, it is not enough for someone to say that another person was negligent and caused them harm. In order to assert a negligence claim rather than have it be simply an “accident”, the plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) must allege the following four elements that make up a negligence claim:
- Duty of care
- Breach of duty
If the plaintiff can prove each element, they may have a case against the defendant (the party they are bringing the lawsuit against).
The first element, duty of care, refers to whether or not the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care. For example, all drivers owe a duty of care to other road users.
The second element requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant breached that duty somehow. A plaintiff may prove that another driver has breached this duty by speeding. That is where the other elements of negligence come into play.
The third element, causation, requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty caused their injury or harm. In the current example, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s speeding caused a car accident and their injuries.
Damages are a monetary award that a plaintiff requests to help make them whole. In a car accident, a plaintiff may request damages for vehicle damage, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and medical bills. A plaintiff must be able to provide evidence for this element as well. If a speeding driver hits your car but doesn’t leave a scratch on it, then you may not be able to claim damages for the vehicle. However, if you were harmed in other ways, you may still be able to make a claim for those damages.
Can an Accident also be Negligence?
While it is very common for an accident to be caused by negligence, just because something is an accident doesn’t necessarily mean that it was due to negligence. It’s similar to how every square is a rectangle, but not all rectangles are squares.
The most common types of negligence that people may personally experience are car or bicycle accidents, medical malpractice, or accidents involving pedestrians. When a corporation organization’s action or inaction results in accidents, there are often negligence suits at play to rectify the farm they caused.
Negligence in Mass Torts
Not all torts are isolated to a single event or a few individuals, like a car accident. Some torts happen to several people over a period of time. This type of tort is called a mass tort. In mass tort litigation, any compensation the plaintiff receives reflects their specific damages.
Consumers often bring mass tort litigation against companies, alleging that the companies were negligent in some way, causing—though “accidents”—injury or death. This means that a negligence mass tort is a lawsuit based on the negligence of a company or organization that committed enough “accidents” to harm many people and be legally responsible for their injuries. The legal representation for the victims must allege that another party injured them would still have to prove the elements of negligence.
Injury Due to Negligence?
We’re here to help. Contact the Guardian Legal Network to connect with personal injury attorneys that can help you understand your options. If you don’t know if you have a case, reach out anyway, and we can help determine your eligibility and connect you to the appropriate help.
- “Accident Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accident. Accessed October 6, 2022.
- “Negligence.” Cornell Law School, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligence. Accessed October 6, 2022.