Last Clear Chance Doctrine

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 What Is Negligence?

In a claim made under personal injury law, the plaintiff claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by the defendant. In response, a court may award the plaintiff money damages for personal injury. A personal injury damages a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, and/or both.

Mental health injuries include emotional pain and anguish sustained by an accident, such as PTSD. Physical injuries include injuries to the organs, limbs, and/or other parts of the anatomy. The injury that may be sustained by a personal injury plaintiff does not need to manifest itself instantly, as it may develop over time.

A personal injury can occur intentionally, such as when a defendant deliberately injures a victim, or intends to commit an act that results in injury. A personal injury may also occur unintentionally. If an unintentional injury is due to someone’s negligence, a plaintiff may file a lawsuit based on the negligent behavior. Auto accidents, slip and fall accidents, and injuries sustained from medical malpractice, are some examples of negligence cases.

Alternatively, an intentional injury occurs when a defendant’s deliberate act or intent to commit an act injures a plaintiff. Examples of intentional injury include battery, assault, or false imprisonment.

Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured people to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be negligent if they were careless given the circumstances of the situation. Negligence has four elements which must be shown in order to recover for injuries; however, even if those four parts are shown and negligence is established, a defense could still mitigate how much a defending party must pay in a damages award.

The four elements are:

  1. Duty: A responsibility one person owes to another. In general, people going about their business owe a duty of reasonable care, or the level of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same circumstances;
  2. Breach: When an individual’s care falls below the level that is required by their duty;
  3. Causation: The breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation essentially states that ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred; and
  4. Damages: In general, there must be some sort of harm that occurred. The specific type of injury can vary from property damage and emotional stress, to lost wages.

To reiterate, all of the above elements must be present in order to successfully determine that the other party was negligent. If one of the above elements cannot be proven, negligence cannot be established.

What Are Some Examples Of Negligence?

The most obvious example of negligence would be personal injury, such as a vehicle accident in which one person’s negligent driving caused harm to another person. However, it is important to note that negligence is a flexible idea that can appear in many different contexts. Emotional harm developing due to negligent conduct is also cause for a lawsuit, such as PTSD.

Additionally, negligence can occur in the work setting. An example of this would be how an employer could be negligent by not providing an employee with necessary proper safety equipment which would have prevented an injury. Training and supervision are two other examples of areas in which an employer might be negligent, if it causes employee injury.

Businesses can also act negligently by producing faulty goods that cause injury to the consumer, such as by negligently making or designing goods for sale. An example of this would be how not testing a toaster in order to ensure that it does burst into flames would be negligent manufacturing. Alternatively, designing a toaster to be built out of flammable material would be an example of negligent design.

It is important to note that lawyers are not immune to negligence claims. As such, if a lawyer’s conduct slips below the standard level of care of lawyers which is higher than reasonable care, they can be sued for malpractice.

What Is The Last Clear Chance Doctrine?

According to the last clear chance doctrine, a defendant may still be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries if they had a chance to avoid injuring the plaintiff. This doctrine is also called a defense to a defense.

An example of this would be if in a car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff ignored a stop sign and continued driving. The defendant ran a red light before crashing into the plaintiff’s car, which caused the plaintiff to sustain injuries. According to the contributory negligence defense, the plaintiff would be barred from receiving any money from the defendant. This defense will be further discussed below.

However, the plaintiff may be able to show that the defendant had time to stop before hitting them, thereby having the last chance to avoid the accident. In such cases, the plaintiff may still be able to receive a monetary damages award.

The Last Clear Chance Doctrine has five elements which must be proven in order to show that the defendant had the last clear chance:

  1. The plaintiff placed themselves in danger due to their own negligence;
  2. The plaintiff could not avoid this specific danger;
  3. The defendant recognized the dangerous situation and had a duty to avoid it;
  4. The defendant failed to avoid the danger despite having an opportunity to avoid it; and
  5. As a result of the defendant not avoiding the danger, the plaintiff was injured.

What Else Should I Know About Contributory Negligence?

Many defenses and exceptions have been developed to justly address situations that are considered to be more complex than simple negligence. Two of the most significant defenses would be contributory and comparative negligence. These defenses are what allow a jury or judge to consider the percentage that a plaintiff is at fault for causing an accident, rather than only the defendant.

Additionally, the doctrines of contributory and comparative negligence help to define and reduce or deny the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a monetary damages award. While each state has its own set of rules and requirements for cases involving negligence, there are some general guidelines which support the overall legal theory of negligence.

Contributory negligence states that if a plaintiff is considered to be at all negligent in the incident in question, they may not recover any percentage of damages from the defendant in the case. This is also referred to as a total bar on damages. What this means is that if a judge or jury finds that the plaintiff was even as much as one percent at fault for the accident, they cannot recover any damages for their injuries. However, most states have gradually replaced contributory negligence with other standards of negligence due to its considerably extreme measures.

As of September 2021, the only states that still allow for a pure contributory negligence doctrine include the following five jurisdictions:

  • Alabama;
  • Maryland;
  • North Carolina;
  • Washington D.C.; and
  • Virginia.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Issues Associated With The Last Clear Chance Doctrine?

Lawsuits that involve the Last Clear Chance Doctrine can be considerably complicated, due to the fact that the plaintiff must prove additional elements.

You should consult with a personal injury attorney who can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws. An experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.

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