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How to prove negligence in Pennsylvania

Negligence is a term that is often used when discussing personal injury cases in Pennsylvania, but it's rarely discussed in its own right. For example, if one were to say that a car accident was caused by a negligent driver, what would need to be shown to prove that the driver was negligent in a legal sense? There are five elements that must typically be proven to show that someone was legally negligent.

First, the victim of an injury must prove that the person or business who caused the injury had a duty to either act or refrain from acting. For example, motorists have a duty to drive safely under the given conditions and follow Pennsylvania's traffic laws. The next thing that must be shown is that the person who caused an injury breached this duty. For example, a drunk or distracted driver has breached their duty to drive safely, as well as to obey state laws.

Third, it must be proven that the breach of duty was the cause in fact of the accident or injury. If a distracted driver hits another car, the distracted driver's act caused the accident. The fourth element of negligence is a little more esoteric: The act must also be the proximate cause of injury. Foreseeability is the standard for proving proximate cause. In the distracted driving example, it was reasonably foreseeable that a distracted driver might crash into another car.

But, what if the car that the distracted driver crashed into rear-ended another car after the impact. The third driver would have to prove that the first impact caused the second impact by proving that the second impact was a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the defendant's distracted driving. Finally, the plaintiff would have to prove that their were damages - property damage, injury, monetary - that resulted from the distracted driver's actions. If there are no damages, then there is nothing to recover, and the negligence case fails.

Source:, "Elements of a negligence case," accessed March 27, 2018

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