The word negligence literally means a state of being careless. In Latin, it actually means, 'not to pick up something'. Negligence principle is applied in tort or derelict cases. It is unintentional and not at all planned. Apart from that, most of the legal systems do not classify carelessness as a synonym of negligence in literary sense.
In a broad sense―from the common man's point of view and from the viewpoint of the legal system―negligence is 'failure to act with sufficient prudence that is possessed by a rational and reasonable human being, which causes physical, material, or emotional harm to some other person.
Terms like accident, carelessness, mistake, and negligence tend of overlap each other, so the courts take into consideration the practical prevalence, which also defines the subtle line that differentiates these concepts.
A man goes to a mall, slips and falls on the wet, soap-cleaned floor, which leads to substantial physical or personal injury. This amounts to negligence, as the mall administrators are expected to put up a 'wet floor' sign. Had the person slipped on water that was spilled by some visiting person, then it would have been a case of carelessness.
Similarly, if a child running playfully in the mall fell on his own, then it would be an accident. In such court cases, there are no specific totally independent laws, and therefore, 'elements' or 'principles' regarding the case are put to use.
Lord Blackburn gave a difficult, yet very apt definition of negligence, which can be applied as a test to know if a said incidence is a case of negligence or not.
'those who go personally or bring property where they know that they or it may come into collision with the persons or property of others, have by law a duty cast upon them to use reasonable care and skill to avoid such a collision'
The Five Elements of Negligence
The elements of gross negligence can be five or four depending on the jurisdiction. Irrespective of legal system and jurisdiction, negligence cases are resolved with the help of some steps that must be fulfilled; these are known as elements. In cases where the elements are fulfilled, the defendant may be held liable to lawsuit settlements.
1. Duty of Care
The legal system of England cites through the ruling of several prominent cases that every rational human being of sound mind has been bestowed with the duty to care for the fellow human being. You cannot throw a banana peel on the road, as it is bound to cause harm to someone.
If you are selling a consumable to other person, then you must make sure that the consumable is not capable of causing harm to the other person. Though not written down as a law, the element of duty to care is an integral part of negligence cases.
In order to determine whether the said negligence is a legally punishable or not, the court will decide whether the harm caused was genuinely foreseeable or not ... or whether there was sufficient proximity in the two parties, ... or if the harm is fair, just, and reasonable.
2. Breach of Duty
The next aspect is to establish whether the defendant owed any moral or obligatory duty to the plaintiff. In such situation, it is not mandatory for the defendant to have any contractual liability towards the plaintiff. The responsibility can be moral or legal.
3. Factual Causation
The factual causation is basically the procedure wherein it must be proved rationally in the court of law that the defendant's 'action' led to damage. Abstaining from action can also be deemed action in some cases.
This fact can be disputed on several basis, but the proven fact must go hand in hand with the other elements, so as to make the said case valid. If validity is established, then the defendant is said to be liable to damages.
4. Legal Causation or Remoteness
In several cases, the causation is factually correct, but is not in consistency with the legal system, i.e., holding the causation true factually as well as legally can result in violation of other laws, norms, or ethics.
In such circumstances, the court sees whether there was any proximity between the two people. For instance, a person slipping on a banana peel cannot sue the banana vendor, who is standing a block away, for not picking up the peel.
The last thing that is decided by the court is the harm or damage that has been inflicted on the plaintiff. It should be substantial as well as rational. The harm is decided by the jury or judge and in several cases, it may be partially or fully rejected by the court. The harm quotient depends upon the situation and the general rational interpretation.
It is not mandatory to prove negligence in a certain pattern or order. The elements are principally the determining rules to assess whether a certain case is a case of negligence or not.