Negligence Claims In Spinal Cord Injury Cases

The facts and circumstances of the accident will determine which legal causes of action can be pursued. Since most spinal cord injuries result from traumas such as car, truck, motorcycle, construction or other accidents, the most common theory of liability in spinal cord injury cases is negligence.

Negligence is tort, otherwise known as a civil wrong. A person is negligent when he or she fails to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent and careful person would exercise under similar circumstances. Negligence can be either an affirmative act or an omission. In other words, a person can be negligent because he or she either did something that a reasonably prudent person would not do under the circumstances, or he or she failed to do something that a reasonably prudent person would have done under the circumstances. Whether a defendant acted negligently in a situation is a question of fact that will be decided by the jury.

In a civil lawsuit, it is the plaintiff's obligation to prove each element of the tort of negligence to the jury by a preponderance of the evidence. The elements of a negligence claim are duty, breach, causation and damages. To prove these elements, the plaintiff must generally show that the defendant owed a legal "duty" of care to the plaintiff under the circumstances, that the defendant "breached" or failed to perform that duty, that the defendant's breach "caused" the accident or injury that resulted in the plaintiff suffering "damages." Every spinal cord injury case is unique, and the circumstances surrounding the accident will dictate the type of evidence that will be required to prove each element of the negligence cause of action.

Because California follows the doctrine of "comparative negligence," a plaintiff may be able to recover damages even if he or she was partially at fault for his or her own injuries. In those cases, liability will be measured in terms of a percentage and the plaintiff's available recovery will be reduced in proportion to his or her fault. For example, if a court finds that a plaintiff is 30 percent at fault in the accident, the defendant(s) will only have to pay for 70 percent of the plaintiff's damages.

If the spinal cord injury was caused or made worse through negligent medical care, the plaintiff may be able to bring a medical negligence lawsuit against the physician, hospital or other health care provider. Medical negligence can be understood as negligence committed by medical professionals. These claims arise when a patient is injured as the result of the improper actions of a health care provider or medical facility. Similar to other negligence cases, the plaintiff in a medical negligence lawsuit must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty of care, and that the breach caused the plaintiff to suffer harm or damage. In California, the duty owed to patients by medical professionals is to exercise the same level of knowledge, training, experience and care that would be exercised by other members of the profession acting under the same or similar circumstances. This is known as the "standard of care" in a medical negligence case. If the medical provider fails to meet this standard of care and the plaintiff suffers harm, an action for medical negligence can be pursued. Again, every spinal cord injury case is unique and the circumstances surrounding medical care received, or not received, will dictate the type of evidence that will be required to prove each element of the medical negligence cause of action.