What is Considered “Negligence” in a Personal Injury Case in Illinois?

In personal injury lawsuits, the defendant’s negligence is often the focal point of the entire case. The ordinary sense of the word might be broad and hard to pin down, but negligence is clearly defined under the law.

Negligence is defined by four distinct legal elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. To prove negligence and win your personal injury case, you must sufficiently establish each of these elements. Doing so requires evidence of each element and how these elements work together. Not only must you produce evidence for a jury, but you must provide arguments and explanations to convince them of your claims. Although there are many examples of negligence in personal injury cases, some common cases seen by our office include car accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and workplace accidents.

Set up a free, confidential case review with our Illinois personal injury attorneys at the Rhatigan Law Offices by calling our team at (312) 578-8502.

Legal Factors That Comprise Negligence in Illinois

Negligence is not a single legal concept but an amalgam of multiple concepts. Negligence is made up of four legal elements. All four elements must be proven for your case to be successful. This makes proving your claim tricky, as the defendant needs only to undermine a single element of your case to avoid being found liable for your injuries.


The duty element establishes the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant. To be liable for injuries, the defendant must have owed some sort of duty or legal obligation to the plaintiff. This is often referred to as a duty of care or safety. Exactly what this duty looks like and how our Joliet, IL personal injury attorneys prove it varies based on the unique facts of your case.

A legal obligation is often found when the parties have a previously established relationship. For example, in a workplace accident case, the defendant is often the plaintiff’s employer because employers are typically responsible for providing safe work environments for employees.

Sometimes, the parties have no previously established relationship, but there is still a duty of care. In car accident cases, the plaintiff and defendant might not know each other. However, all drivers on the road owe a duty of care or safety. This is the obligation to drive with reasonable safety under the circumstances while obeying the traffic code. This duty applies even if the drivers in a crash are total strangers.


The breach is how the defendant violated their duty of care. To put it another way, the breach is how the defendant caused the accident. For example, in car accident cases, the breach is often something like a common traffic violation. Running a red light, speeding, or failing to signal a turn might be considered a breach of the defendant’s duty of care.

Like the duty element, the breach element is unique to each situation and might vary from case to case. In some cases, you might know the defendant was involved in the accident but be unsure exactly what they did to cause it. Often, some degree of investigation is required to figure out the breach.

Defendants do not necessarily have to be present when the breach occurs. In many cases, the defendant is a third party whose actions cause the accident from afar. For example, a manufacturing company might be the defendant in a product liability case because they produced a faulty item that injured you when it malfunctioned. The company itself or a representative does not have to be directly involved to be liable for the breach.


It is not enough to prove that the defendant somehow breached their duty of care. We must go further and show how the breach caused the accident. In short, the defendant’s breach must be the direct and proximate cause of the accident. In many cases, defendants try to avoid liability by arguing that another force caused the accident. Often, defendants claim that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries. As such, defending against arguments of contributory negligence is often a necessary part of proving causation.


Finally, we must have proof of your damages. Damages must be real, not just hypothetical possibilities or “what if” scenarios. Even if we prove all the other elements of negligence, you have no claim if you suffered no damages. Damages are often monetary and may be proven through financial records. Hospital bills or the cost to repair damaged property are common examples of damages. However, not all damages are measured in money. Non-economic damages might include things like pain, suffering, and humiliation.

How to Prove Each Element of Negligence in a Personal Injury Case Illinois

Proving the elements of negligence is a tall order. Each element must be proven for your case to be successful. Even if a single element is lacking, your case might fall apart. To prove negligence, we must first produce sufficient evidence. Then, we must present compelling legal arguments to the jury.

Simply having evidence is only half the battle. Jurors are free to accept or reject the evidence as they see fit, no matter how strong or irrefutable we might think it is. We must present legal arguments that convince the jury of the evidence’s legitimacy.

In some cases, evidence of a certain element is self-explanatory. For example, all drivers on the ride owe a duty to drive with reasonable safety. We simply need evidence that the defendant was behind the wheel of the other car in an accident to establish the duty element. However, in cases like hit and runs where the other driver fled the scene before being identified, evidence of their duty might be harder to establish.

Evidence of the breach is similar. It might be easy to establish based on the circumstances or incredibly difficult. Continuing with the car accident example, we might obtain security camera footage from a nearby business that shows the defendant running through a red light before hitting you in an intersection. This video evidence might be enough to establish the breach of duty. However, if there is no video evidence and we have no witnesses to support your claims, your case might devolve into a he-said-she-said situation.

Call Our Illinois Personal Injury Attorneys About Your Negligence Case

Arrange a free, private case evaluation with our Chicago personal injury lawyers at the Rhatigan Law Offices by calling us at (312) 578-8502.