Accidents happen for many reasons. Although some accidents, such as those caused by unforeseen weather events, are nobody’s fault, most involve culpability on the part of a person or entity. 

The legal term for an injury caused by a party’s failure to exercise a reasonable level of care is negligence. Pursuant to California law, each person is responsible for injuries caused to others due to the failure to exercise ordinary care. 

However, if you’ve been injured in an accident in California and want to recover damages, you must typically prove the other party’s negligence in a personal injury case. 

What Are the Elements of Negligence?

In basic terms, negligence occurs when a person suffers an injury of some kind due to another’s carelessness. Negligence consists of four elements, each of which must be proven to succeed in a personal injury claim

The elements of negligence are:

We discuss each element in further detail below.

Duty of Care

The first element of negligence is duty. Everyone has a general duty to use due care in performing any task that could result in injury to another person. 

In California, the duty of care is one’s legal obligation to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others. Some people owe a special or heightened duty of care to others due to the nature of their relationship.

For example, teachers owe a special duty to students who are in their care. Others, like drivers on the road, owe a general duty to everyone else on the road. 

Breach of Duty

Next, an injured party who files a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care

In most cases, determining whether a party committed a breach of duty requires a close examination of the facts. For example, if a driver falls asleep at the wheel and causes an accident, this could be considered a breach of their duty to keep other drivers safe. 

In California, a breach of duty may also be established when a defendant violates a statute; the technical term for this is negligence per se. In other words, the violation of the statute automatically establishes the breach. For example, if a driver’s violation of a traffic regulation results in an accident, this could be considered negligence per se. 


The next element of a negligence claim is causation. To prove causation, a plaintiff must provide evidence that a defendant’s breach of duty was the direct cause of their injuries. In California, there are two ways to demonstrate causation in a personal injury action.

The first way is known as the “but for” test. This means that the accident or incident would not have occurred but for the defendant’s actions. This test is the most appropriate when a plaintiff alleges that a single act caused their injury.

For example, but for the defendant’s act of crashing into the plaintiff’s vehicle, the plaintiff would not have been injured.

The second way to establish causation in a personal injury case is through the substantial factor test. This test examines whether a reasonable person would consider the defendant’s actions to have contributed to the harm suffered by a plaintiff.

However, it must be more than a trivial or remote factor; it does not have to be the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury. This test is useful when there is more than one defendant.


Finally, to prove negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate that they were harmed or injured by the defendant’s action or inaction. In other words, even if a defendant breaches a duty to a plaintiff, the plaintiff cannot succeed in a lawsuit based on negligence if they suffered no actual harm due to the breach. 

For example, if a plaintiff slips and falls at a business due to a breach of duty by the business owner but doesn’t suffer an injury, they cannot recover any compensation in a personal injury claim based on negligence. 

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer For Help Proving Your Negligence Claim 

If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident, you need an experienced Vista personal injury lawyer on your side.

An attorney will help you prove each element of negligence to hold the responsible party liable for your damages. They’ll gather evidence, such as medical records, police reports, eyewitness testimony, expert witness opinions, photos, and videos to build your case. 

Contact Petrov Personal Injury Lawyers today for help.