What is Negligence?
In a phrase, negligence is the failure to use ordinary care. "Ordinary care" is that degree of care which a reasonably prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances. The legal concept of negligence claims developed centuries ago to provide injured people with legal remedies when the person causing their injury did not do so intentionally.
When law school students are first introduced to this topic, they are taught that "negligence in the air does not exist." What does that mean? It basically means failing to use ordinary care by itself brings no consequences. It is only when the failure causes injury to another that a legal claim for negligence arises. A person wishing to sue another for negligence must prove four things: 1) the defendant owed him some kind of duty under the law; 2) the defendant breached or violated that duty; 3) the breach of duty was a direct cause of; 4) damage. Duty, breach, proximate cause and damages--the four necessary elements to a legal claim for negligence.
We are all familiar with certain types of careless conduct giving rise to legal action. A drunk driver causing an auto accident is a classic example. The drunk driver breached the duty to operate his vehicle in a reasonably safe way and caused injury to another.
There are countless other examples of unreasonable conduct that can give rise to an action for negligence.