In Maryland, most personal injury cases are based on the argument that the plaintiff (victim) was harmed because the defendant (allegedly at-fault party) was negligent. Negligence basically means that a party’s actions weren’t reasonable under the circumstances and, as a result, caused the plaintiff to get hurt. There are four primary elements of a negligence claim:
- Duty: The at-fault party must have owed the injury victim a duty of care. A duty of care means that the defendant has a responsibility to act reasonably and avoid putting others at an increased risk of suffering harm or injury. They must exercise the degree of care and caution that a reasonable person would use in similar circumstances.
When does a defendant assume a duty of care? It depends. Generally speaking, there are times when we all owe one another a duty of care. For instance, if you’re driving a car, you have to do so in a way that is safe and doesn’t put others in harm’s way. There are times when a duty is established based on the special relationship between two people. This can happen when you visit the doctor or enter someone else’s property by invitation.
- Breach: Once it’s established that the defendant did, in fact, owe the injury victim a duty of care, it must be proven that this duty of care was breached in some way. In other words, the defendant failed to act reasonably and put the plaintiff at risk of harm.
A defendant can breach a duty of care by through action (e.g., driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol) or inaction (e.g., not taking the keys away from a friend who is visibly impaired and unable to drive safely).
- Causation: It’s not enough for a party to breach their duty of care. Their behavior must have caused the plaintiff’s injury. Maryland law requires two types of causation to be present.
“Cause in fact” means that the plaintiff would not have gotten hurt “but for” the defendant’s actions (or inaction). This element is fairly straightforward.
Then there’s “proximate cause,” which is often more difficult to establish. Proximate cause is used to narrow the scope of causation. An at-fault party will only be responsible for injuries that are a foreseeable consequence of their injuries. In other words, the cause of a victim’s injury cannot be too disconnected from the defendant’s actions.
- Damages: Finally, the plaintiff must be able to prove that they have suffered damages (economic or non-economic). Damages can be monetary (e.g., the cost of replacing damaged property, medical bills, lost wages), physical (e.g., disfigurement, scarring), and/or emotional (e.g., pain and suffering, depression, PTSD, loss of enjoyment of life).
An injury victim will win their personal injury case if they can prove all four elements by a preponderance of the evidence.