Michigan Lawyer Blog

How Do You Prove Negligence in an Injury Case?


Personal Injury Results






If you want to sue some other party after sustaining an injury, you need to prove, among other things, that they were negligent in some way. There are some basic requirements for negligence to exist that apply across the board, but what it looks like in practice varies depending on the individual circumstances of your case.

Our attorneys at Goodman Acker break down the basic principles of negligence and explain how they might relate to your situation.

How Do You Prove Negligence in an Injury Case?

Negligence is a legal term that refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care under a given set of circumstances. If you fail to do something that a prudent person would have done in a certain situation, or you do something a prudent person would not have done, you have been negligent in the eyes of the law.

Aside from cases in which someone intentionally harms someone else, negligence is an essential element of a personal injury action. You cannot succeed in a lawsuit like this unless you can establish that the defendant was negligent in some way.

Proving negligence in an injury case can be challenging and complex. That is why it’s advisable to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you evaluate your case, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if necessary.

Call our attorneys at Goodman Acker today to discuss your personal injury case at (248) 286-8100.

What Are the Elements of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?

If you sue someone on the basis of their alleged negligence, there are four key elements you must show to exist if your case is to succeed.

Duty of Care

This is a legal obligation to act in a certain way to avoid harming yourself or others. For example, drivers have a duty to follow traffic laws and drive safely, store owners have a duty to keep their premises free of hazards, and doctors have a duty to provide competent medical treatment.

For your action to be successful, you must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to you specifically; the existence of a duty of care in general will not suffice.

Breach of Duty

Once you have established that a duty of care existed, you must identify the defendant’s breach of it. For example, a driver might breach their duty of care by speeding, running a red light, texting while driving, or driving under the influence. A store owner could breach their duty of care by leaving a slippery floor or a loose shelf unattended.


Causation, which often gives rise to difficulties in injury lawsuits, requires you to show that the other party's breach of duty caused your injury. In other words, there must be a direct link between their negligent act or omission and the harm you suffered. You need to be able to show that your injury would not have happened had the negligent party acted reasonably.

Say you became injured following a surgical procedure. Your attorneys have established that your operating surgeon was negligent in some way, but that’s not sufficient to secure a settlement for you. The opposing counsel may argue that the injury you sustained was because of some other factor, such as your failure to rest properly following your treatment. If they succeed in this argument, your lawsuit will fail, despite the demonstrated existence of negligence on the defendant’s part.


The damages requirement means that you must have suffered some kind of real harm as a result of your injury. This can include physical pain, emotional distress, medical expenses, lost income, and property damage among other types of losses. Courts will accept almost any type of damages as long as you can show they are real and measurable.

Again using the hypothetical botched surgery as an example, imagine you were left with a bodily disfigurement after a procedure due to your surgeon’s shoddy work. The issue does not prevent you from working or carrying out normal lifestyle activities, but its cosmetic impact is significant.

The opposing counsel might argue that the issue is not truly causing you harm, as it’s not having an impact on the practical aspects of your life. In a situation like this, you would need a skilled attorney in your corner to highlight the emotional pain you have suffered because of the problem such as from a loss of confidence or an inability to wear certain types of clothing. This example highlights the difference between general and special damages.

The Different Types of Damages

The monetary compensation you receive following a successful personal injury lawsuit is referred to as “damages.” Three broad types of damages may be relevant in a Michigan personal injury case: general, special, and exemplary.

A useful point to remember here is that establishing liability is sometimes only half the battle. You also want to emerge from your legal battle with a fair amount of compensation. This is why insurance companies and other types of defendants will often attempt to settle dispute resolution processes early on for sums much lower than what plaintiffs are truly entitled to. If they can settle your case cheaply without the hassle of an extended legal battle, they will view this as a victory.

Special Damages

Special damages, also known as economic damages, cover the easily measurable losses you suffer as a result of your injury. Examples of special damages include medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket costs. If there is a receipt or invoice providing a dollar value for a certain loss, it likely falls under the heading of special damages.

General Damages

General damages compensate you for non-economic losses or losses that do not have an easily measurable monetary value. These losses are all essentially different types of pain and suffering such as emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. Because there is no clear indication of the value of general damages (such as receipts or invoices), they are much more difficult to calculate than special damages.

It’s up to judges and juries to decide on amounts to award, and this process can be quite subjective. Typically, however, awards of general damages depend on factors like the nature and severity of the injury, its impact on your life and well-being, and your life expectancy.

Exemplary Damages

The first two damages categories are collectively known as compensatory damages, as they compensate plaintiffs for harm they have suffered. However, courts may also award damages to punish defendants for egregious conduct and deter others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.

Most other American jurisdictions call these “punitive damages,” but Michigan courts have opted not to use these other than in some limited situations set out by statute. Instead, the state uses a similar concept called “exemplary damages.” In order for exemplary damages to be available, you must show that the defendant’s conduct was willful and malicious. Michigan courts tend not to award exemplary damages easily; however, if you believe you should be entitled to them, you should discuss the possibility with your lawyer.

To discuss your personal injury case and options with an attorney, contact Goodman Acker today by calling (248) 286-8100.

What Is Comparative Negligence in Michigan?

What happens if someone else’s negligence led to your injury, but you were partially at fault for what happened as well?

Luckily for you, Michigan follows what is called a comparative negligence in personal injury cases. This means that you can still recover compensation for your injuries as long as you are less than 50% at fault. Michigan uses a version of the doctrine called the modified comparative negligence rule, which means you will be barred from receiving any compensation if you are 50% at fault for it or more.

Some other states use a contributory negligence rule. Under this system, you cannot recover damages related to an injury if you contributed to it yourself in any way.

If you have additional questions about Michigan’s comparative negligence laws, it is best to consult with an attorney. Call our attorneys at Goodman Acker today at (248) 286-8100 to discuss your case and how comparative negligence might impact your case.

Getting the Help You Need after a Personal Injury

Understanding negligence is useful if you’ve suffered an injury, but at the end of the day, you’re better off entrusting the job of worrying about it to the professionals. Contact Goodman Acker today to schedule a free initial consultation about your case. You can reach us via the form on our website or by phone at (248) 286-8100.