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Proving Fault: What is Negligence?

Personal Injury Attorney in Peabody, Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, negligence is defined as failing to exercise the level of care that an average, reasonable, cautious, and prudent individual or company would have done under the same circumstances. It’s an unreasonable mistake that can happen even if it wasn’t done intentionally.
Reasonableness is not an individual standard; it’s a community one. It is what the greater community thinks to be reasonable, given the circumstances.

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, most personal injury lawsuits are based on the legal concept of negligence. It is the standard of behavior we demand from people and businesses. In our interactions with other individuals and organizations, we expect reasonable as well as safe behavior. Unreasonable behavior that causes personal injury is not tolerated in our society. It can result in legal liability for the consequential damages and injuries brought about by that behavior.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, a legal claim may be worthwhile to pursue, particularly if you’ve incurred medical bills and lost income. Discuss your case with our skilled personal injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates P.C. to learn more. Call us now!

The Four Elements of Negligence in Proving Fault

To prove that the defendant (the one purportedly at fault) behaved negligently, the plaintiff (the person who was injured) must prove the following four elements:

  • Duty,
  • Breach,
  • Causation,
  • Damages.


The first step in evaluating a negligence claim in a personal injury case is determining whether or not the defendant owes the plaintiff a legal duty of care. In some instances, the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant creates a legal duty.

For example, a doctor owes a legal obligation to their patient to provide proper medical treatment. Similarly, the defendant could owe the plaintiff due care while operating a motor vehicle carefully.
However, in other types of personal injury cases, the element of duty of care is not always as easily proven. What if, for example, the injured person was not supposed to be around the area wherein the accident occurred? An experienced Peabody personal injury lawyer can easily handle these complexities.


The next step is for the Massachusetts court to determine whether the defendant breached this duty by acting (or failing to act) in a way that a “reasonably prudent person” would in a similar situation. A “reasonably prudent person” is a legal criterion that describes how an average person would act responsibly in a given scenario. The defendant will be deemed negligent if the average person would have known that their actions would lead to someone’s injury – and would have acted differently in that scenario.


The third element is for the plaintiff to show that the defendant’s negligence was the real cause of their injury. Sure, someone may be negligent, but the plaintiff can only recover if the negligence causes injury. For instance, it would be unfair to sue someone texting and driving for a completely unrelated fender bender that occurred just across the street – merely because the driver was negligent.
Another consideration in this element is whether the defendant could have known that their actions might lead to injury. If the defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff injuries due to a random, unforeseen act of nature, the harm would undoubtedly be judged unforeseeable – and the defendant would most likely not be held liable.


Finally, “damages” are required in a case of negligence. This element requires the court to be able to compensate the plaintiff for their injury, which is commonly done by monetary compensation for expenditures like medical treatment or repair of property damage.

What Qualifies as “Reasonable” in Terms of Negligence?

To prevent injuring others, everyone must exercise “reasonable care,” according to the fundamental principle of negligence. However, reasonable care may change depending on the place, the time, and the personal relationship among people; thus, the same action may be deemed negligent in one situation but not so in another.

Example #1: A baseball field is full of players. A foul ball accidentally strikes a spectator on the sidelines. The players were presumably not negligent since they were reasonably behaving while playing on the field. Also, batting a wild pitch is expected in the sport. If anybody was irresponsible, it was probably the one who sat near the field, knowing a ball was flying around.

Example #2: A player in a baseball game becomes enraged and tosses his bat, inadvertently striking a spectator sitting on the field’s edge. Hurling a bat out of anger isn’t a “reasonable” aspect of baseball, and the spectator had a right to be there; throwing the bat is negligent conduct, thus making the bat-thrower accountable for any damage sustained.

Proving Fault: The Essentials of a Negligence Case

Whatever caused your accident, most personal injury claims can be settled with fair compensation with only a few simple, commonsense applications of a few fundamental principles:

  • If you can prove that you acted cautiously while the other party was negligent, the reckless individual is usually required to pay for your injuries and damages. If someone else’s liability insurance covers the accident, your prospects of collecting fair compensation improve dramatically.
  • If an employee was negligent by causing an accident while being employed by someone else, that employer is legally liable too (under a principle known as “vicarious negligence” or “vicarious liability”).
  • If a defective product causes an accident on an unsafe property, the property owner, product manufacturer, or product seller is usually held accountable regardless of whether or not they created the risk or defect. This concept is useful in product liability or premises liability cases.
  • If you were negligent, your compensation is typically limited by the amount you were to blame.
    Technically, you don’t have to definitively “prove” anything. You simply need to present a credible argument that there was negligence on the part of the other party, even if the other party was careful.

The nitty-gritty details of negligence may take some time for you to understand. However, you don’t need to waste that time if you hire our reliable personal injury lawyer. Call the Law Offices of Barry Feinstein today for a consultation!

Are there Various kinds of negligence?

Yes, to some extent, there are several kinds of negligence. More precisely, the principle of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit is sometimes utilized in various ways. Consider the following examples.

Ordinary Negligence

The definition of ordinary negligence is ordinary carelessness: a motorist who fails to correctly assess the speed of the car approaching him before making a right turn during a red light; a supermarket worker who fails to notice a spillage in the dairy section, which causes a customer to slip and fall.

Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence

Comparative negligence and contributory negligence are legal principles applicable when the individual filing the injury claim may have some degree of blame for the underlying accident or occurrence. The details differ depending on the rules in effect in each state.

In Massachusetts, if a plaintiff bears some blame for their injuries, the amount they can get from other parties is lowered by a percentage proportional to their share of fault. Find out more about shared negligence in Massachusetts personal injury claims from the Law Offices of Barry Feinstein & Affiliates P.C.

Vicarious Negligence

When a person’s negligence can be passed on to someone (an individual or a business), this is referred to as vicarious negligence (also known as vicarious liability). In a supermarket slip and fall scenario, the store owner would be held vicariously liable for the worker’s failure to notice and clean up a dairy aisle spill within a reasonable time.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is a degree of fault beyond ordinary carelessness. It often involves recklessness or blatant disregard for the safety of others. Driving for a few hours above the speed limit and causing a vehicle accident is negligent. Moving at a speed of 80 miles an hour in a school area and causing a collision is gross negligence.

If you need help proving another person’s negligence caused your injury, we’re here at your service. Contact our Peabody personal injury attorney for legal help!

Get Legal Advice from a Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you’re encountering resistance from the other party or their insurance company, or if you just want to be sure your claim is in skilled hands, it would be worthwhile to get legal help from a personal injury attorney.
You do not have to pursue your potential claim on your own. The Law Offices of Barry Feinstein and Affiliates P.C. serves clients in and around Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dedham, Lowell, Newton, Norwood, Quincy, Somerville, Waltham, and Peabody. Call us now to learn more about how we can help you!


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