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Proving a Negligence Per Se Cause of Action in a Personal Injury Accident

Separate and distinct from a pure negligence cause of action (see Injury Accident Cause of Action? Negligence), a negligence per se cause of action requires, in a nutshell, that the personal injury accident victim prove that the at-fault party violated some sort of law (such as a statute, regulation or ordinance) and the violation of that law was a substantial factor in causing his/her injuries. The importance of finding a violation is that once the violation is found, the at-fault party is legally presumed to have been negligent in his conduct (assuming there are no applicable defenses he could successfully argue). The inquiry into a negligence per se finding is two-fold. According to California Jury Instructions 418, the juror is asked whether (1) The defendant violated the particular law at issue, and (2) whether the violation was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm. If the answer is ‘yes’ to both inquiries, the injury accident victim has proven negligence per se (subject to appropriate defenses, if any, by the defendant). Understand, if the trier of fact determines that the at-fault party did not violate an applicable law or that the violation of the law was not a substantial factor in bringing about the harm, the at-fault party can still be found responsible through a standard negligence inquiry (for the negligence inquiry, see Injury Accident Cause of Action? Negligence). In some situations, the first inquiry into a negligence per se liability finding is not necessary. If the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that the at-fault party violated a particular law or the at-fault party admits to doing so, California Jury Instructions 419are given, which eliminates the first inquiry found under California Jury Instructions 418. California Jury Instructions 419 reads, “A violation of this law has been established and is not an issue for you to decide. [However, you must decide whether the violation was excused. If it was not excused, then you] [You] must decide whether the violation was a substantial factor in harming [name of plaintiff]. If you decide that the violation was a substantial factor, then you must find that [name of plaintiff/defendant] was negligent.” The source of a negligence per se cause of action following a car, truck, motorcycle accident, or other personal injury accident is found in Evidence 669(a). The language of that code reads, “The failure of a person to exercise due care is presumed if: (1) He violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity; (2) The violation proximately caused death or injury to person or property (3) The death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent; and (4) The person suffering the death or the injury to his person or property was one of the class of persons for whose protection the statute, ordinance, or regulation was adopted.” For example, let’s pretend there is a law on the books which says that no big rig or other type of vehicle can carry more than 20 tons of logs in transportation on California roadways due to the increased likelihood of injuring other travelers on such roadways. Defendant Jim loaded his semi-truck with 25 tons of logs and because his truck could not contain the weight, it jack-knifed and caused a serious accident on the highway. Here, the personal injury victim would successfully argue negligence per se because truck driver Jim (1) violated a statute, (2) the violation proximately caused injury to the victim, (3) the statute Jim violated was designed to prevent accidents like this from occurring, and (4) the accident victim was the type of person the statute sought to protect. If you have been injured in a car, motorcycle, big-rig accident or other type of injury accident, regardless of whether the at-fault party violated a local statute or ordinance, contactthe Steven Dhillon Law Firm for a free consultation today.

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