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What is Negligence Per Se in Louisiana?

What is Negligence Per Se in Louisiana

If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s actions or lack thereof, you are now under the sway of Louisiana tort law–and, more specifically, negligence law. 

Negligence law is the statute by which the courts determine liability in personal injury claims involving a negligent party. Within this law, there is a classification of negligence known as negligence per se, which occurs when a judge has determined that one party is negligent as a result of violating the law. Under the doctrine of negligence per se, victims can recover damages more quickly and without the hassle of a jury trial. 

Personal injury cases can be complex and often involve a variety of unclear, interweaving factors. There are even different types of damages you can recover depending on your situation, including compensatory and punitive damages. That’s why, if you’ve been injured as a result of negligence, your first step should be to call the Joubert Law Firm. Our law firm has been helping the citizens of South Louisiana with their personal injury claims for over twenty-five years. We understand the Louisiana court system, the personal injury legal process, and what’s at risk for you and your family. Call our Baton Rouge personal injury law office at 225-761-3822 or schedule a free consultation here.

What is Negligence in Law?

Negligence as a legal term means that someone acted recklessly–or failed to act as they should have–and this action or failure to act resulted in harm to others.

In Louisiana, any time you sustain injuries in an accident caused by someone else, you have the right to recover damages. Louisiana’s negligence law exists to help courts determine who is at fault for any particular accident, who has a right to recovery, and who needs to pay up. For instance, if a store owner fails to put up a “Wet Floor” sign after mopping up a spill and someone slips and falls as a result, that store owner would be considered legally negligent.

Louisiana has what is called a comparative negligence law, meaning that the negligent party is responsible for paying damages in proportion to their liability. So, if you sustained $300,000 in damages, but you yourself were 50% at fault, you could recover $150,000 compensation from the person or persons responsible for the other 50%.

Of course, proving all of this is rarely as easy as it should be. Negligence cases can be very complicated and require a significant amount of evidence in your favor. That’s why it’s important for victims to work with an experienced Baton Rouge personal injury attorney like those at Joubert Law Firm who have plenty of experience in proving negligence. 

What is Required to Prove Negligence?

Like we said, proving negligence to the satisfaction of the court can be difficult. In most cases, it might seem quite obvious who the negligent party is, but in Louisiana, there are five elements that must be proven before a plaintiff can establish a claim against a defendant. This five-prong analysis is called the duty risk analysis.

Elements of Negligence

The five elements of the duty risk analysis are:

  • Cause in fact. You must prove that the defendant’s conduct was a cause in fact of the harm. This is also sometimes called the “but for” question: if the plaintiff would not have been injured but for the defendant’s conduct, that conduct is a cause in fact.
  • Duty. Did the defendant have a duty to the plaintiff? This could be a duty by statute, regulation, or custom. That means the defendant could have a legal duty to the plaintiff, or simply a socially understood duty.

Let’s take a second to talk about that one. Outside of a statutory violation, every person has a minimum standard of care they must meet, typically called “reasonable care” in a legal context. For example, every driver has the responsibility to take reasonable care not to knock each other off the road while driving. Even if you didn’t necessarily break any specific statute, if you violate that standard of reasonable care and drive recklessly and there is harm caused, you would more than likely possess some (if not all) legal liability. 

  • Breach of duty. Did the defendant breach their duty to the plaintiff?
  • Scope of the breach. To what extent did the defendant breach their duty? Why did they do so? Specifically, did the defendant breach their obligation in order to protect the plaintiff from injury? Even though this is a legal question, it’s also incredibly case-specific. The court must determine whether the defendant could have reasonably foreseen the harm caused. 
  • Injuries suffered. What were the plaintiff’s injuries? Was the breach of duty a proximate cause of those injuries sustained?  

As you can see, it isn’t a simple matter of what someone should have done versus what they did do. You must establish to what degree the defendant was responsible.

Negligence vs. Negligence Per Se

Both negligence and negligence per se are determinations made by the court; the main difference is simply when the determination is made.

Negligence Per Se Legal Definition

Negligence per se occurs when a court determines a party is guilty of negligence without putting it before a jury. Negligence per se applies when the defendant has violated a law put in place to protect the public and this violation has directly caused the accident in question. Some common violations of laws put in place to protect the public that a judge might rule as negligence per se would be traffic violations and building code violations. 

In cases like this, a Louisiana judge can rule that one party committed negligence without wasting judicial resources. An essential aspect of a negligence per se ruling is that the broken law was the direct cause of the accident in that particular case.

This means that there are added elements for attorneys attempting to prove negligence per se. To have a judge rule a party negligent per se, an attorney must prove:

  • Violation of the Law. Thankfully, this is pretty easy in most cases. If police issue a citation for violating a traffic law at the scene of a crash, it’s simply to establish that a law has been broken. 
  • Intent of the Law. This is where it might get a little tricky–it’s important to establish that the goal of the law in question is to protect the public from bodily harm. For most laws, this will be stated in the text itself. For instance, speeding laws exist to keep you from being injured in a crash. 
  • The Plaintiff is Part of the Protected Class. Every statute is designed to protect a certain class of people. For instance, medical malpractice laws are designed to protect people seeking medical treatment. The law the defendant broke must be intended to protect the class of people to which the plaintiff belongs for negligence per se to apply. This might be relatively easy to prove, like in the case of doctors and patients–or it might be more unclear, like in the case of two drivers on the road.

Below, we’ll give you some examples of negligence per se, including where it applies and where it does not.

Examples of Negligence Per Se

Traffic violations are the most common examples of laws broken during a negligence per se case. If a driver is seen speeding through a school zone and crashes into your car after running a stop sign, they have broken Louisiana law. Their violation is the direct cause of the motor vehicle accident–if they had not been speeding and running stop signs, they would not have crashed–and the courts would be able to rule them guilty of negligence without ever putting it before a jury.

Another similar example would be if a driver crosses a double yellow line while passing and causes a crash. However, negligence per se will not apply to every person who breaks the law and ends up in a car accident. For example, it’s illegal in Louisiana to drive without a valid driver’s license. If someone is driving without a license, but is breaking no other laws and is involved in a crash, the situation gets much more complicated. Negligence per se will not necessarily apply in this case, because there is no causal relationship between the statutory violation and the accident. While the actions of the defendant might have been the proximate cause of the accident, that sort of trial will likely go before a personal injury jury.

What Damages Are Recoverable in Cases of Negligence Per Se?

In cases of negligence per se, Louisiana law allows for two different types of compensation: compensatory and punitive damages. It’s also important to remember that negligence law in Louisiana allows for comparative damages. This means that a person will pay damages in proportion to their liability. If someone is only 50% responsible, they will only pay 50% of the possible damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are what the person at fault pays to make the victim whole again, so to 

speak. These types of damages can include:

Economic Damages

  • Lost wages. This would include past lost wages, as well as any future lost wages.
  • Reduced ability to earn. For instance, if a car crash leaves you unable to perform manual labor and you can no longer complete your job duties, your employer might move you to a lighter but lower-paying job. You could receive compensation for that difference in income.
  • Compensation for medical treatment. The person at fault would be responsible for any medical treatment the victim required. This would include any kind of physical therapy needed during recovery.
  • Property damage. In cases that involve things like a car crash, the driver at fault might need to pay for the damage to the other car.
  • Funeral expenses. In some unfortunate cases, a Louisiana wrongful death claim comes into play. Under the doctrine of negligence per se in Louisiana, the negligent party would need to pay funeral and burial expenses.

Non-Economic Damages

Pain, of course, cannot be measured in a court of law. It also can’t really be proven. For this reason, dollar amounts are somewhat unclear when it comes to non-economic damages in negligence per se cases. For that reason, it’s important to work with an experienced attorney who can get you the compensation you deserve.

Some of the more common non-economic damages allowed by Louisiana law include:

  • Pain and suffering 
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Consortium; loss of family or spousal relationships

Punitive Damages

In Louisiana, punitive damages are only awarded in cases of extreme or gross negligence, especially in negligence per se cases, as those involve broken laws regarding driving while impaired/intoxicated.  You cannot be awarded Punitive Damages for simple traffic violations. 

If You Were Injured Due to Someone Else’s Negligence, Call the Baton Rouge Personal Injury Attorneys at Joubert Law Firm Today

At the Joubert Law Firm, we’ve spent years handling everything from minor injury cases to cases of serious and catastrophic injuries in Baton Rouge. If you have been injured by someone else in violation of the law or you simply believe the injuries caused to you or a loved one were caused by someone else’s negligence, call us at 225-761-3822. You can also schedule a free consultation here.

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