When building a case in a personal injury matter, the primary legal claim to be proven is the claim of negligence against one or more defendants. The plaintiff typically has the burden of proof, and whether the plaintiff can prove the defendant was negligent will usually determine the outcome of the case.
Under New Jersey law, negligence is defined as a party’s failure to act as a reasonable person would, or failure to exercise the “degree of care for the safety of others” which a “person of ordinary prudence” would exercise under “similar circumstances.” NJ Model Jury Charge (Civil) 5.10A “Negligence and Ordinary Care - General” (1984).
In order to prove a negligence claim, four elements must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. First, an injured plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, meaning the defendant had an obligation to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances vis-a-vis the plaintiff. Next, the plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the duty of care, or failed to act as a reasonable person would have. The third element, causation, requires that plaintiff prove a link between the defendant’s breach of the duty of care, and causation of the plaintiff’s injury. Finally, the plaintiff must prove the injuries and/or financial losses that the plaintiff has suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence, as these losses and injuries will be the basis for any “damages” that the jury may award to compensate the plaintiff for the harms and losses suffered. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Melcar Util. Co., 212 N.J. 576, 594 (2013). Each of these elements involves unique complexities, thus crafting a winning case is a significant undertaking.
A number of other issues can arise in the course of a negligence action. For example, the defendant is permitted to assert a number of affirmative defenses that can potentially preclude a plaintiff's recovery. An example of an affirmative defense commonly asserted in these lawsuits is "assumption of risk," or that the plaintiff knew a certain activity was potentially dangerous, but assumed the risk anyway. In fact, New Jersey law specifically recognizes the concept of assumption of risk in connection with certain types of activities. N.J.S.A. 5:13-1, et seq. (Skiing): N.J.S.A. 5:14-1 et seq. (Roller Skating); N.J.S.A. 5:15-1 et seq. (Equestrian Activities). Other affirmative defenses that a defendant may raise is that an “Act Of God” or “sudden emergency” necessitated the defendant’s actions, and that the defendant's actions are attributable to other parties such as the owner of a motor vehicle or other third-parties.
With so many moving parts in a personal injury lawsuit, you will benefit from experienced and tenacious legal representation on your side. If you are considering pursuing a legal action for negligence in New Jersey, contact a New Jersey Accident Attorney today to find out how we can help you achieve the best outcome possible in your case.