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What Is Negligence?

If you have been hurt in an accident caused by someone else, you have probably become quite familiar with the term “negligence.” You might have also heard it mentioned in lawyer television commercials.

Most people have a vague understanding of negligence. They know it is a bad thing that can end up costing the person responsible a lot of money.

But what is it really? For a simple word, negligence is a relatively complex legal concept.

The Definition of Negligence

The basic definition of negligence is “a breach of the duty of care that causes injury.” There are three main elements required to bring a negligence claim:

  1. A breach of the duty of care
  2. An injury
  3. Causation between the breach and the injury

To truly understand negligence, it is necessary to understand each element and how it applies to an injury claim.

The Duty of Care

Most children grow up learning to follow some version of The Golden Rule, which teaches that we should treat those around us the same way we would like to be treated. Simply put, we are taught to be cautious and kind, that it is wrong to injure other people.

This same principle applies in the legal context, and this “duty to use care” is one of the oldest concepts in law. Courts measure the “standard of care” according to what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances. Because each situation is different, the standard of care changes depending on the particular facts of the case. For example:

  • A driver approaching a pedestrian crossing has a duty of care to stop when pedestrians are walking across the road because that is what a reasonably prudent person would do in the same situation.
  • An architect designing a building has a duty to use the same care in his professional work as other licensed architects would use.
  • A doctor performing a surgery has a duty to use the same standard of care as other surgeons in the same geographical area.

The Breach of the Duty of Care

When an individual or business entity fails to observe the appropriate standard of care, there is a breach of this duty, which creates the potential for negligence.

Just because you have a breach of the duty of care, however, does not mean you automatically have a case for negligence. To complete the definition of negligence, you must also have “causation”, which refers to the breach actually causing the injury to occur. In other words, the breach must result in harm or damages.


In the personal injury context, causation is the link between the breach of the duty of care and the injury that results. A defendant can engage in blatant acts of carelessness, but if his or her behavior does not cause the injury, there is no liability for negligence. It should be noted, however, that the careless behavior does not have to be the only reason for the injury. Over time, Canadian case law has evolved to accept degrees of negligence, which refers to a defendant being partially responsible for the plaintiff’s injury. In many cases, the plaintiff can still bring a negligence claim even if he or she also acted carelessly.

If you have been hurt, it is important to speak to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can explain your options and help you obtain fair compensation.

This website has been prepared by Lomax Law Firm for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. 


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