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Car Accidents and Negligence in Des Moines

“Negligence” is a word that is often used both inside and outside the legal arena. Some of the time it is used correctly and other times it is not. Before delving into the role of “negligence” in Des Moines car accidents, we must first define what negligence is.

Negligence is a “tort”. A tort is a wrongful act, not including breach of contract, that results in injury to someone else’s property, person (body), reputation, or the like, and for which the injured person or party is entitled to monetary compensation for the full extent of their damages. There are three types of torts: negligent torts, intentional torts, and strict liability.

An intentional tort would be when someone intentionally injures another person such as we would see in an assault. For example, Person A punches Person B in the nose – this was an intentional act therefore it is an “intentional tort”. Keep in mind when dealing with intentional torts that while a plaintiff (injured person) can sue the defendant / tortfeasor (the person that commits the tort) there isn’t going to be insurance coverage as insurance companies do not insure for intentional acts. If you do get a judgement for your injuries rising from this intentional act, collecting said judgment can be extremely difficult. Additionally, depending on the specific facts of your case, the defendant may be able to discharge the judgement in bankruptcy which may leave you with nothing.

Strict liability is also a tort but it is neither intentional nor caused via negligence. Rather, if a person violates a particular statute, regardless of how they do it, they can be held “strictly liable” for all the damages they cause. The easiest way to view strict liability is through dog bite statutes. Most states, including Iowa, have dog bite laws that declare a dog owner is “strictly liable” for their dog biting a person. The dog owner need not be negligent nor intentionally have their dog bite to be held strictly liable.

A negligent tort, in its simplest form, is when a person fails to take proper care in doing something. Expounding on that concept, it can be said that a person acts negligently if he or she has deviated from the conduct that society expects from a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances. Under that definition, most of us have been negligent from time to time.

When dealing with the law of negligence, as we do in Des Moines car accidents, the definition becomes much more cumbersome than the brief definition provided above. This complexity arises because negligence, in the legal context, has four separate and distinct elements, all of which must be met in order to sustain a claim of negligence. If a plaintiff / injured person fails to prove even one of the elements, then a claim of negligence will most often fail. The elements of negligence and brief definitions are found below.

Elements of Negligence

Duty: simply put, “duty” means a legal obligation. For example, absent a special relationship, person A typically does not owe person B a duty to act for or on behalf of them. However, in the context of negligence as it pertains to car accidents in Des Moines, Iowa, and elsewhere, person A does owe person B a “duty of care”. What that means is, person A must behave in such a way that they do not injure person B. Refining this example even further can be done thusly: in the case of a Des Moines car accident, a driver of one car owes the drivers and passengers of every other car a duty of care thus requiring person A to drive their car in a such a way that they don’t hurt anybody else.

Breach: failing to perform one’s duty. As noted above, person A has a duty to behave in such a way that person B is not injured. If person A does not behave in such a manner and, as a result, person B is injured, then person A has “breached” their duty to person B.

Damages: the means used to measure the extent of the harm suffered by a plaintiff due to another party breaching their duty to them. In common parlance, the term “damages” simply means the amount of money it will take to fully compensate an injured party for their losses. It is somewhat easier to think of damages in a reverse context; if person A breaches their duty of care to person B yet person B is not “damaged” by this breach, then there is no negligence. Damages include, but are not limited to, past medical bills, past pain and suffering, past wage loss, future medical bills, future pain and suffering, future wage loss, loss of consortium, cost of retraining, and the like.

Causation: Person B’s “damages” must have been “caused” by Person A’s breach. Frequently, proving causation can be quite simple. Take for example a situation in which Person A is involved in a T-bone car accident in Des Moines with Person B. Person A admits that he ran the red light and Person B suffers a broken neck as a result of the car accident. Clearly, there is a duty, a breach, damages, and causation. However, imagine that Person B suffers a whiplash injury rather than a broken neck and, additionally, imagine that Person B has a significant history of neck pain. The question then arises, were person B’s damages “caused” by Person A or were Person B’s damages entirely pre-existing and not even aggravated during the Des Moines car accident? If Person B’s neck injury is proven to be entirely pre-existing, then, obviously, they were not “caused” by the at-issue Des Moines car accident and a claim of negligence will likely fail.

Contact a Des Moines Personal Injury Lawyer:

In the case of a car accident, your Des Moines personal injury lawyer will, most likely, make a claim on your behalf rooted in negligence. An experienced personal injury lawyer will frequently be able to check off the required elements of negligence with a simple review of the facts of your case and your injuries. There are times, however, in which your lawyer will need to draw on his or her experience to creatively meet the required elements or to determine another claim that may be allowable given the specific facts of your case.

The personal injury lawyers at Des Moines Injury have over thirty years of combined experience representing people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence. Regardless of how you have been injured, contact us today for a free consultation. We can be reached at 515-493-HURT (4878).