This is perhaps the area of U.S. law where your cultural background may have the biggest potential to mislead you since civil litigation procedures and rules of evidence are dramatically unlike those in France or in many other countries. Like in many legal systems, if someone was negligent, you will have to show Duty, Negligence and Causation in order to obtain compensation. However, the means at your disposal in the United States to prove these three elements are much different than in France for example.
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A wrongdoer whose acts cause injuries to another person is not necessarily liable for the damages. Four elements must be met for an injured person to be compensated by the wrongdoer: Duty, Negligence, Causation, Damages.
refers to the degree of care one must provide to another individual. The degree of care one owes to another depends on the relationship between the parties: Landlord/Tenant, Merchant/Customer, Host/Guest, Employer/Employee, Doctor/Patient, Teacher/Student, Stranger/Stranger, etc.
measures the degree of fault. The wrongdoer would be considered to have been Negligent if he/she failed to meet his/her Duty toward the victim. However, often there might be more than one party at fault, including the victim. The consequences of the victim’s own negligence varies from state to state, from no compensation if the victim was slightly contributory negligence, to a compensation reduced by the victim’s share of fault, to full compensation as long as the victim was less at fault than the other person.
measures the connection between the actions of the wrongdoer and the victim’s injury. If the connection is not direct- i.e. intervening acts had to occur between the wrongdoer’s action and the resulting injury to the plaintiff-one would ask whether it is fair to require the wrongdoer to compensate the victim. This question often would be answered differently in each jurisdiction.
quantify the compensable injuries. The most obvious compensable injuries are bodily injuries and harms to properties. Other injuries that could be compensated include emotional distress, injury to reputation, injury to business interests, etc. Whether these injuries will be compensable will depend on the applicable law and the type of wrong committed.
These are the starting points to evaluate any case. However, as you already realize a substantial body of law exists in every jurisdiction to respond to various factual scenarios. This is where an attorney can be the most beneficial in analyzing your particular case in minute details and see how it could fit the best legal remedy of the relevant body of law.