If you are a resident of Boynton Beach or one of the surrounding South Florida communities, chances are you have recently read in the local newspapers and/or heard on the evening news a sad story involving a hit and run accident that left someone severely injured or dead. In just the last several months the news reported that a high school student was run down and killed as he walked home from a basketball game, a man driving a motor scooter was critically injured when an SUV bumped his rear tire and left him for dead, and an elderly driver killed a bicyclist and left the scene. Many times, but not always, the driver who flees the scene is caught and what may have begun as a case of simple “negligence” – i.e., failing to use reasonable care that results in the underlying accident and injuries – has now become “criminal” in nature – behavior that breaks a traffic law or violates some statute or regulation meant to protect the public – is now proof the person failed to use due care or was negligent. An experienced negligence lawyer in Boynton Beach can look at your facts and determine liability.
When this occurs in the personal injury context – in other words, when someone is injured as a result of another person’s actions and those same actions or behaviors are a violation of the law, the injured party may have a civil claim for damages under a theory of “negligence per se.” Whereas in a standard negligence action the plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) a duty was owed to the plaintiff (2) the defendant breached the duty; (3) the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (4) the plaintiff has a permanent injury (i.e., money damages), in a negligence per se action, the plaintiff typically proves only three elements because by showing the law was violated, the plaintiff has established the first two (duty and breach). In this context, the three elements of negligence per se are: (1) the defendant violated a statute; (2) the statute was intended to prevent the very injury that occurred; and (3) the plaintiff is among the people that the statute was intended to protect. Of course the plaintiff must show “proximate cause” – that the violation is what lead to the resulting injury.
The concept of negligence per se is more easily understood by reference to the 1874 lawsuit of Gorris v. Scott, and the facts that gave rise to the theory in the first place. The plaintiff in this seminal case sued a ship owner under a theory of negligence per se when all of his sheep were washed overboard and died. The plaintiff proved that the ship owner was transporting the sheep in violation of the Contagious Animal Disease Act of 1869 – a law that required all livestock to be transported in separate pens so that potentially diseased animals would be separated from healthy ones and therefore help prevent the spread of any infectious diseases. Although it was undisputed that the plaintiff’s sheep were not penned up during the ocean voyage in violation of the statute, the Court of Exchequer held that this was NOT negligence per se because the law was intended to prevent the spread of disease and not the loss of live stock.
If you or someone you know was injured because someone else broke the law, you may have a good negligence per se cause of action, possibly making a personal injury claim a little easier to win. Please call an experienced Boynton Beach negligence lawyer at Boynton Law, P.A. for a free evaluation and explanation of your legal options.