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Proving negligence in Connecticut

Personal injury cases - whether a slip-and-fall or an accident caused by a drunk driver - usually hinge on the concept of negligence. From a legal perspective, negligence is a little different from the dictionary definition. To prove that a defendant was legally negligent in Connecticut, a plaintiff - the person or party injured - must show that five criteria are met.

First, the defendant must have owed a legal duty to the plaintiff. A legal duty can come from a statute or ordinance, the nature of a relationship, social norms or even common sense. For example, a shopkeeper has a duty to keep the public spaces in his store free from hazards that could injure the public. Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant committed an act that breached this duty, like leaving a garden rake pointed upward on the floor of a hardware store.

The third criterion is that the act must have been the actual cause of the injury. If a customer does not see the rake and steps on it, causing the handle to swing violently upward into his face and break his nose, the act of leaving the rake lying on the floor was probably the cause-in-fact of the injury. But the plaintiff also has to prove that it was reasonably foreseeable that if the shopkeeper left the rake on the floor, someone would get hurt. This fourth criterion is called "proximate cause."

Finally, the plaintiff has to prove that he suffered damages as a result of the act that breached the duty. In the shop example, the plaintiff suffered a broken nose, which resulted in pain and suffering and likely medical bills. A monetary measure of these things is referred to by the legal term "damages." If a judge or jury finds that all five criteria have been met, then the shopkeeper was negligent, and the customer can recover damages for his injury.

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

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