What is Negligence?

In basic terms, negligence is acting or failing to act according to the general duty of a reasonably prudent person under similar circumstances. For example, a driver of an automobile has a general duty of a reasonably prudent driver who is driving under similar circumstances.

Additionally, individuals who work in certain professions may owe a greater duty of care than the reasonably prudent person. For example, in North Carolina, a physician owes the degree of care, skill and proficiency conducted by reasonably careful, skillful, and prudent physicians in the same class to which he belongs and in the same or a similar locality, acting under the same or similar circumstances. A statute, ordinance, or regulation may also provide the standard of a person’s duty of care.

In North Carolina, in order to prove that another person was negligent, you must prove four (4) elements:

  • The person owed you a duty of care;
  • The person breached that duty of care;
  • The breach actually and proximately (foreseeably) caused your injuries; and
  • Damages

In regards to Element #2, in North Carolina, an individual only owes a duty to those whom his conduct can foreseeably injure. The foreseeability requirement only applies to the kind of harm caused by the negligent party, not the precise manner of harm or the extent of harm. For example:

An employee of a local restaurant is cleaning the kitchen’s machines using a flammable substance. A stray cat runs into a nearby open flame gas furnace and catches fire. The cat then runs past one of the machines while a customer is walking past on the way to the bathroom, and the machine explodes. The customer suffers serious burns. In this example, the general type of accident, which was the customer’s suffering of serious burns, was foreseeable at the time the gas furnace’s flame was left open.