How Negligence Per Se Works

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident due to the negligence of another person or entity, you may be entitled to recover damages as compensation for your injuries.  Proving that the defendant was acting negligently can be quite difficult, but in some cases, negligence may be proven if you can show that the defendant violated certain laws in causing the accident at-issue.

When a statutory violation leads to an automatic finding of negligence, that is known as “negligence per se.”  In the Arizona motor vehicle accident context, negligence per se is a legal doctrine that can significantly strengthen your case.

What is negligence per se?

Stated simply, negligence per se is automatic negligence.  In a standard negligence situation, you would have to establish a standard of care, and prove that the defendant failed to adhere to that standard of care.  With negligence per se, the defendant’s law-breaking behavior serves as automatic proof of negligence.

Arizona imposes a few requirements on plaintiffs attempting to prove negligence per se, however.  Violation of a law only serves as proof of negligence if:

  • The law must be enacted for the protection and safety of the public; and
  • The law expresses rules of conduct in specific and concrete terms.

In other words, the law must be related to public safety and must be explicit (and specific) about what behavior is prohibited.  Generally speaking, traffic violations tend to fall within the category of laws that qualify for a negligence per se finding.

For example, in the state of Arizona, pursuant to section 28-797 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, drivers may not travel at greater than fifteen miles per hour in a school zone while school is in session.  The law is enacted for the safety of the public, and is quite specific in its terms.  If a driver is traveling at greater than fifteen miles per hour and thereafter collides with and injures a student, the driver may be found negligent per se — and could be held liable.

Finding that the defendant has committed negligence — either standard negligence or negligence per se — does not mean that a lawsuit is won, however.  To succeed, you will have to show that the negligence committed by the defendant actually and proximately caused your injuries.  If the defendant violated some traffic law, but that violation did not actually result in the accident at-issue, then you cannot hold them liable (even if they were negligent).

Personal injury claims — including those where the defendant is likely to be found negligent per se — may seem straightforward at first glance, but can be complicated by a number of different factors.  Even where the defendant is found negligent, you will have to show that the defendant’s negligent acts caused your injuries, and further, you will have to successfully persuade the jury to accept your damages assertion as a reasonable estimation of your actual damages.  In the litigation context, there is a significant gulf between a “win” and a “huge success.”  As such, you’ll want to work with attorneys who have a long track record of success representing clients in injury litigation — and more specifically, in car, motorcycle, and truck accident litigation.

Call (602) 535-1900 today to speak with an experienced Phoenix injury lawyer here at Hirsch & Lyon.  During your initial free consultation, your attorney will assess your various claims and work with you to develop a plan of action for pursuing litigation.