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New York Negligence Law: FAQ

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

You're walking down 5th Avenue, when out of nowhere, a person on a scooter runs into you from behind. Unfortunately, since you weren't expecting the blow, you fall down so hard that you fracture your wrist. It turns out that the person on the scooter was busy looking at his phone instead of looking in front of him. Now you're wondering if you can file a negligence lawsuit against him so that you can recover at least some of the money that you've had to spend on medical care.

If you or a loved one have been injured by another person's negligence, you probably have a number of questions about how the law works. Read on for answers to some of the frequently asked questions about New York negligence laws.

What do I need to prove in order to win my negligence case?

In order to win a negligence case, a plaintiff must prove that:

  1. The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff;
  2. They breached that duty;
  3. Their breach caused injuries to the plaintiff; and
  4. The injuries resulted in actual damages to the plaintiff.

How do I know if the defendant owed me a duty?

There are a variety of circumstances that can create a "duty of care." A duty can be based on the context of a relationship between the people involved. For example, a doctor owes a duty of care to their patient. A duty can also be created by certain situations. Drivers, for example, have a duty to act in a way that a "reasonably prudent person" would in similar circumstances when they're operating their vehicle.

How does a person "breach" a duty?

The general duty for most people is not to cause negligent harm to others. Basically, whenever a person doesn't act as a reasonably prudent person would in similar circumstances, they breach their duty. For instance, a reasonably prudent person riding down the street on their scooter wouldn't be looking at their phone. So, if that person hit and injured a pedestrian, they would have breached their duty to the pedestrian.

Once I prove duty and breach, causation is pretty clear, correct?

Although it seems simple or obvious, proving causation is still necessary and not always that easy to prove. More specifically, you need to show that the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing your injuries. Not only that, the plaintiff must prove that the harm caused by the defendant's negligence was reasonably "foreseeable."

Foreseeability is why you can't argue, for example, that a surgeon who saved the scooter rider's life a year ago should also be liable for injuries caused by the scooter hitting you. While it is true that absent the surgeon's actions you wouldn't have been injured, the surgeon could not reasonably foresee that his actions would have led to the scooter accident a year later, not to mention all of the intervening factors, like the defendant's decision to buy a scooter, to ride the scooter that day, and, more importantly, to look at his phone instead of the sidewalk.

Can I still recover damages if I contributed to my injuries?

Some states don't allow a plaintiff to recover damages if they contributed to their injuries. Others, including New York, allow a plaintiff to recover even if they were partially to blame for their injuries. In fact, New York negligence laws even allows a plaintiff to recover if there was an assumption of risk in a particular activity that led to their injuries. The damages are reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff is found to have been at fault.

What exactly do I need to prove about damages?

Proving damages means that you need to show actual losses you've incurred due to your injuries. That means that if you were injured, but it didn't actually lead to any impact on your finances or life, then you can't prove damages. For example, if you were in a car accident but didn't suffer injuries and the other driver's insurance covered the cost of the damage to your car, you can't claim damages from that accident.

Get Legal Help with Your New York Negligence Law Questions

Negligence cases not only involve complicated legal theories, but they're also fact-specific and oftentimes, facts don't become established unless you have an attorney working diligently on your case. So, if you're thinking about filing a negligence lawsuit, it's best to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney near you.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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