Many areas of law, especially personal injury, revolve around the concept of negligence. It’s wise for anyone expecting a personal injury, medical malpractice, or other liability claim in the near future to speak with a qualified Kansas City personal injury attorney. He or she will help you understand how negligence works in the legal world and the different types of negligence and negligence laws that may come into play with regards to your specific case.
Types of Negligence Laws
States have differing laws when it comes to negligence in civil claims. Some states follow a pure contributory negligence law that prohibits claimants from collecting damages if they were even slightly at fault for the incident in question. The court assigns a fault percentage to plaintiffs who are partially to blame for their damages. In a state that follows a pure contributory negligence law, such as the District of Columbia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, or Virginia, a plaintiff found even 1% at fault cannot recover compensation.
Other states follow less strict comparative negligence laws that allow plaintiffs to recover damages if they are partially at fault, but they lose a percentage of their compensation equal to their percentage of fault in the incident. For example, if the court deems a plaintiff to be 25% at fault for a $100,000 lawsuit in a state that follows a pure comparative negligence law, he or she will only receive $75,000.
Many states follow a modified comparative negligence law that will allow a plaintiff to recover damages as long as they are 50% or less at fault for their damages. These states usually follow the same framework as pure comparative negligence law states and reduce plaintiffs’ case awards by their fault percentages.
Vicarious Liability and Gross Negligence
Many personal injury lawsuits arise from medical malpractice claims. In a medical malpractice claim, a claimant asserts that he or she suffered harm due to the negligent actions of a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional during the course of treatment. The law refers to the “standard of care” to determine whether or not a medical malpractice claim is valid.
Vicarious liability laws can sometimes lead to a hospital or other healthcare organization incurring liability for the negligent actions of a doctor or other employee of the organization. Similarly, private citizens may be found vicariously liable for damages they do not directly cause, such as a dog owner whose dog bites another person or a parent of a child who seriously injures another child at school.
The medical community generally agrees upon tested, medically sound treatments that are effective for a given situation. If a medical professional decides to pursue an alternative treatment without just cause, violates a patient’s rights to informed consent, or otherwise acts in a manner contrary to that of a similarly skilled and reasonable professional in the same situation, he or she may be liable for malpractice. The concept of gross negligence comes into play in medical malpractice claims involving a medical professional who acted without even the slightest regard for the accepted standard of care in the situation, or made an error so obviously avoidable that even an untrained person would not have made the same mistake. Some examples may include:
- A surgeon who amputates the wrong limb after reading an x-ray backwards.
- A surgeon leaving a piece of medical equipment inside a patient’s body during a procedure.
- Administering medication to a patient who has a known allergy to the medication.
Gross negligence may also apply to personal injury claims outside the realm of medical malpractice. Most plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits can recover compensatory damages including medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost income, and property damage if they can prove a defendant’s negligence. However, a defendant found guilty of gross negligence will face much harsher penalties. It’s not uncommon for a jury to award punitive damages to a plaintiff who suffered harm due to gross negligence.