Negligence is essentially used to describe someone who has acted carelessly. Specifically, it describes someone who has done something that a reasonably prudent person would not do, or someone who has not done something that a reasonably prudent person would do.
The court determines whether someone is negligent based on the reasonable person standard. If a person fails to act in a way that the reasonable person would, he or she may be found negligent.
In a car accident, a driver can be found negligent for any range of activities. A driver can be negligent for numerous actions including, but not limited to, failing to drive within the speed limit, inattentive or distracted driving including eating or using a cell phone, and running a stop sign.
The reasonably prudent person is almost perfect. He or she would not typically speed while driving, pick up a phone, or fail to yield to other cars on the road. As a result, a driver who deviates from the reasonable person standard in any of those ways will be found liable for negligence when the deviation directly causes harm to another individual on the road.
Contributory negligence is a legal device used by defendants to defeat a personal injury claim. It is an affirmative defense which means the defendant admits that he or she was negligent, but still argues that he or she should not be found responsible because the plaintiff was also negligent. The defense will argue that if not for the plaintiff’s own negligent act, the accident would never have occurred.
The contributory negligence doctrine created harsh results leaving the injured plaintiff without any recourse. Thus, many jurisdictions have adopted comparative negligence schemes which proportion the damages based on the level of fault assigned to each party.
In Hawaii, the burden of proof in negligence cases is on the plaintiff – the party bringing the lawsuit against the alleged wrongdoer. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the defendant breached this duty, the breach caused the plaintiff harm, and the damages.
The plaintiff can provide testimony evidence that the defendant breached a duty. The burden then shifts to the defendant to prove that the defendant did not breach a duty. Or, the defendant can use an affirmative defense and admit that a duty was breached, but argue that he or she still should not be responsible for the injury because, for example, the plaintiff was also negligent.