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What Is Driver Negligence?

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Jeff Sevey

If you’ve been in an accident and are considering legal action or if you’ve already filed an insurance claim, you may have heard the term ‘negligence’. You may have an idea of what the term means when it comes to work and other personal responsibilities, but what exactly does negligence mean in the context of driving?

In the legal world, negligence has a precise definition that helps lawyers, judges, and juries to know what counts and what doesn’t. Proving negligence is an extremely important part of holding a driver liable for injuries, so it is important that anyone considering legal action know what negligence is. At The Sevey Law Firm, our Roseville car accident lawyers have years of experience proving negligence to win our clients the compensation they deserve. Here is some information to help you understand negligence and how it might apply in your case.

An Overview of Negligence

Driver negligence encompasses a wide variety of unsafe things drivers do behind the wheel that can lead to accidents. Some of these behaviors are illegal, while others are simply bad driving. Here are some of the common unsafe actions drivers take which are considered to be negligent:

  • Speeding
  • Driving the wrong way into oncoming traffic
  • Failing to signal
  • Making a turn when oncoming cars are too close
  • Texting while driving
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Driving too fast on wet or icy roads
  • Tailgating

Many of these and other dangerous actions behind the wheel can contribute to causing accidents. However, when you are trying to prove negligence, you cannot simply say, “The other driver was speeding,” and call it a day. An act has to satisfy four criteria in order to be considered negligent in the legal sense. Below is an explanation of each of these four points.

Duty of Care

In order to do something negligent, you need to have something to neglect. In legal terms, we call this a duty of care. A duty of care is an obligation to do something that can reasonably be expected of you to take care that you are not putting others in danger. In the context of driving, a duty of care can be anything from your obligation to keep your eyes on the road to your duty to stay in a single lane. Sometimes drivers’ duties are related to traffic laws; other times, they are simply unwritten rules that are expected of drivers.

Breach of Duty

The second part of negligence is breaching a duty of care. In the simplest terms, all this takes is for a driver not to do what’s expected or required of them. Since drivers have many obligations, the breach can take many shapes, such as texting instead of keeping your eyes on the road.


Perhaps the least straightforward part of proving negligence is proving causation. In order to hold someone liable for negligence, you have to prove that their breach of a duty of care caused or contributed to the accident. It is not enough to say, for example, that another driver was going too fast – you have to prove that their speed was a contributing factor to them hitting you.


Finally, in order to hold someone liable for negligence, you will have to prove that you suffered an injury as a result of the accident they caused. This may seem like the most straightforward of the four components of negligence, but it is important to keep in mind. When you are holding someone liable for negligence, you are only holding them liable for the injuries their negligence caused. If you had any preexisting conditions that were not made any worse by the accident, you will not be able to recover compensation for those. Likewise, if you escaped an accident completely unscathed, you will not be able to recover damages for physical injuries, except perhaps for a single doctor’s checkup.

Comparative Negligence in California

So those were the four components of negligence. Sound simple? Not so fast. Car accident cases are rarely as cut and dry as pinpointing one dangerous behavior and proving that it constituted negligence. Most accidents involve a number of contributing factors, sometimes coming from both drivers. In California, the way courts handle the complexity of these cases is a doctrine called ‘comparative negligence.’ This means that they consider all the negligent actions both drivers seem to have taken and assign each driver a share of the blame in the form of a percentage of fault. Either driver can sue to win compensation in a personal injury claim, but their award will be reduced by their percentage of fault.

Let’s illustrate this principle. Say you were on your morning commute when suddenly you were hit by a driver turning left at a red light. At trial, you are able to prove that the other driver made an illegal turn at a dangerous intersection. However, they are able to prove that you were talking on the phone when you were hit, and therefore may have been distracted. The jury might decide that the other driver was 90 percent at fault for the accident and you were 10 percent at fault. If you otherwise would have won $100,000, your award will be reduced by 10 percent to $90,000.

Contact The Sevey Law Firm

Now that you understand the basics of driver negligence, think about how they might apply in your case. Do you think you were injured due to another driver’s negligence? If so, you have legal options. A Roseville car accident lawyer from The Sevey Law Firm can help you bring a personal injury claim against the driver who injured you and fights to hold them financially accountable for your injuries. But the clock is ticking. The longer you wait, the harder it gets to prove negligence after a car accident. So don’t hesitate - call The Sevey Law Firm today at (916) 788-7100 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

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