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How Do Courts Define “Negligence” in DC Injury Cases?

negligence dcMost DC injury cases require a ruling by jury, and when they do, it it always by an impartial jury. But how does the jury know how to make decisions? The answer comes in the form of a set of guidelines issued by the judge of the case called the injury instruction. The jury instruction is issued in every case with a jury in order to inform the jurors about the proceedings of the court and enable them to ultimately make the most knowledgeable and just decisions at the end of the case.

Some jury instructions are guidelines to direct proceedings, like say, how to ask a question during an auto accident trial. Others, however, may simply outline a legal term that is being explored during the trial. Take a look at the below jury instruction from a Washington D.C. civil court defining what negligence means.

Negligence Defined (D.C. Std. Civ. Jury Instr. No. 5-2)

Negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care. To exercise ordinary care means to use the same caution, attention, or skill that a reasonable person would use under similar circumstances. It is negligent to do something that a person using ordinary care would not do. It is also negligent to fail to do something that a person using ordinary care would do.

What does it mean?

In any personal injury case, the purpose of jury instructions is to clarify court proceedings and definitions that may arise into question during the duration of the trial. However, to the vast majority of Americans who did not attend law school, often the jury instructions can seem vague, complex, and unfamiliar. Don’t worry, we get it. Let’s break it down further.

The jury instruction above was likely issued in a case where there was a question of negligence. It simply seeks to outline what qualifies as negligence in the court of law so that jurors can better grapple with the evidence brought before them.

What does ordinary care mean?

The jury instruction starts by defining negligence as the “failure to exercise ordinary care.” Well, what does ordinary care mean in a DC injury case? Unfortunately, the definition of ordinary care is not as clear as you may want it to be. Typically, however, ordinary care is defined as what is expected of the majority of people in a given situation. We know, it’s vague, but that is why it is often up for debate.

The important thing to remember about ordinary care is to keep in mind the context. The “ordinary” thing to do for a homeowner may not be the same thing to do for a medical professional. A lot of the time when negligence is in question, somebody failed to follow the duty they were responsible for. In the homeowner’s case, this may mean keeping their home safe for visitors. For the medical professional, it may be carefully monitoring their patients post surgery.

Though dramatically different actions, both would likely qualify as ordinary care because it is what expected of the roles that they have. If you are still confused — especially if this case involves you or someone you know — it may be in your best interest to reach out to a DC personal injury attorney.

What are some examples of negligent behavior?

Take, for example, a hospital malpractice suit. Think about a patient who needs to have one leg amputated, and the doctor makes a mistake and amputates the wrong leg during surgery. Thus, that patient has to live without two limbs instead of one for the rest of his/her life. While medical mistakes happen all the time, this mistake may qualify as negligence. After all, we can all assume that if a doctor forgets which leg he/she is amputating, they likely did not follow protocol by thoroughly checking what leg they were operating on. The court would likely rule they did not use ordinary care, and thus they would be considered negligent. A medical malpractice attorney can also help in these cases.

Another good example of this is in a typical slip and fall accident case. Let’s say a worker slips on unindicated wet floors in the entrance to their office building. This worker suffers a major concussion and cannot work for the six months so they decide to sue the building for negligence. In this case, the negligence would be not placing a sign that indicates wet floors. In most situations, we can usually assume that the wet floors would be indicated with some sort of sign so that nobody suffers from injuries.

What’s the big takeaway?

Ultimately, even the most skilled DC injury attorneys agree that negligence is always up for debate. It depends on the context of the situation, and what role the person being accused of negligence had. As a juror, it is necessary that you try your best to imagine what an ordinary person would do in the situation and in that role, and make your deliberations based on that (along with the evidence, of course).

Please do not rely on any above statements as legal advice. You should always seek the advice of a licensed lawyer in order to assist you.

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