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What is Negligence?

Updated on February 1, 2010

Negligence, in law, is the failure to act with as much care as a situation demands, resulting in damage to person or property. For example, a bus driver who goes through a red light and hits a car has been careless in discharging his duty of delivering passengers safely to their destination. In most states the injured person's own lack of due care, called contributory negligence, will prevent him from recovering damages for his injuries. In a few states his negligence will only reduce his damages. In the instance cited, if the car that the bus hits is approaching in the wrong lane, the driver of the car may be partly responsible for the accident and may therefore lose a suit for damages or recover only part of his damages. Negligence claims need not involve infraction of the law, but simply a lack of all due care. A jury, or sometimes a judge, determines liability by applying the standard of what the reasonable, prudent man would do in like circumstances. Most civil suits in the courts today are based on negligence claims resulting from traffic collisions. A criminal suit may be brought by the state if the negligence causes death; the heirs of the deceased may also bring a civil suit.

The concept of negligence has undergone many changes as society has become more mechanized and as more people have been injured in accidents. Many acts that would not have been considered negligent years ago are considered negligent today. In some states, such institutions as hospitals and certain government agencies are no longer immune from liability.

Hence, liability insurance is a very important protection for those who may face lawsuits charging negligence. In industry, workmen's compensation acts provide that employees injured on the job can receive their medical costs and a portion of their lost wages from an insurance fund, whether or not their injuries were caused by negligence.

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