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What is negligence?

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In legal terms, negligence is the failure to act in the way that a reasonably prudent person would act in a given set of circumstances.  Typically, people act negligently.  However, it is also possible for a person to be negligent because they failed to act.

Negligent actions are those which are, in essence, irresponsible.  They are actions that a reasonable person would have known were dangerous.  The person who acts negligently is not intentionally trying to hurt someone.  Instead, they are acting in a manner that is reckless or imprudent.  Let us say that I am driving my car and I decide to run a red light.  I think I can make it, and I certainly don’t intend to harm someone.  If I do cause a collision, I have clearly acted negligently because I should have foreseen that my action was likely to cause harm.

People can also be negligent through inaction.  This happens when a person fails to provide adequate safeguards to keep others from harm.  For example, imagine I have dug a pit in my yard and I have failed to fence it off.  A neighbor child runs through my yard and falls in the pit and is hurt.  I am likely to be guilty of negligence for failing to foresee and prevent the possibility of such injury.

Technically, negligence is likely to exist if the following four factors exist:

  • A person has a duty to be reasonably careful.
  • They fail to do so.
  • This results in physical harm to someone else.
  • The harm results for circumstances that the negligent person could reasonably have foreseen.


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