You are legally driving through an intersection, minding your own business when . . . BAM, your car is struck by a red-light runner. It can happen in the blink of an eye. After the dust settles and you are on the mend from your injuries, it is likely that you will want to hold the other driver responsible for their actions. This is normal and it usually comes in the form of a personal injury lawsuit.
There are different ways to seek justice for injuries you suffered through no fault of your own, but one of the best ways is via a doctrine called "negligence per se."
Negligence per se
Negligence per se differs from negligence in that, unlike ordinary negligence, you as the plaintiff do not need to prove
- That the defendant had a duty to act a certain way, or
- That the defendant breached that duty.
Instead, the act itself is considered to be negligent because it broke a law that was intended to protect people from harm.
For example, several traffic laws exist within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, one of which states:
"Vehicular traffic facing a steady red signal alone shall stop at a clearly marked stop line, or if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown."
Therefore, unless a special circumstance exists, it is against the law for a driver to run a red light. Imagine back to the previous example where the driver broke the law and ran a red light, an act that ultimately caused a collision with your vehicle and your subsequent injuries.
Under the negligence per se doctrine, because a law against running a red light was in effect at the time the accident occurred and the driver's breaking of the law gave rise to your injury, the driver who ran the red light would likely be found responsible and be obligated to pay monetary damages.
Negligence per se is not applicable in every situation. To apply, the following elements must be present:
- The purpose of the law must be to protect people in in a specific situation;
- The law must clearly apply to the defendant;
- The defendant must have violated the law;
- The defendant's violation of the law must be the cause of your injury.
The main benefit of the negligence per se doctrine is that the victim does not need to show whether the defendant was reasonable or not. All that matters is whether a law existed, the defendant broke the law, and the defendant's breaking of the law caused an injury. The defendant's actions are assumed to be unreasonable if the act violated the law or rule.
It is important to note that under the negligence per se, you must prove that the purpose of the law was to protect a specific class of people from a specific type of harm. Going back to the car accident example, the law preventing drivers from running red lights is meant to protect drivers and pedestrians (a specific class of people) from auto accidents (a specific type of harm).
At trial, a defendant will likely have a story for why they had to violate the law, also known as a defense. Defenses to a claim of negligence per se include the following.
- The defendant suffered a medical episode that made it unreasonable to stay within the confines of the enacted law.
- The defendant did not know, nor had reason to know, of the law.
- It was impossible for the defendant to comply with the law while using reasonable care.
- The defendant was in an emergency situation that forced the violation of the law.
- If the defendant had complied with the law, a great number of people would have been at risk to be harmed.
In a civil action, damages are meant to put you back in the financial position you were in before the accident. Compensatory damages include expenses associated with your medical care, hospitalization, treatment, economic loss from loss of income (this can be both past and future), pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, and mental anguish. Generally, if you suffered in any way from the actions of the defendant, you can be compensated if the court agrees that the defendant caused your pain. The law in Pennsylvania does not impose a limit or cap on the amount of compensatory damages a court may award.
If the court determines that the actions of the defendant were so exceptionally malicious and/or outrageous, an additional award may be rendered that is intended to both punish the defendant and prevent similar situations from taking place in the future. This award type is known as "punitive damages."
In Pennsylvania, when seeking punitive damages, the court will permit clear and convincing evidence to be shown that points towards the defendant acting with willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference to the rights of others.
Hiring the Right Legal Counsel in Pottstown
If you have been injured because someone else broke a law that was meant to protect you, who you hire to represent your legal interests is one of the most important decisions you can make. A skilled and experienced lawyer will study the facts of your case and put together a game plan for how to put you in a strong position for success in the courtroom. You should be focusing on healing while letting the experts focus on your case. The David J. Cohen Law Firm in Pottstown, PA prides itself on providing clients with top-tier service that put clients in the best possible position for success. Contact David J. Cohen Law Firm today.