Proving Negligence Actions in Georgia: Unreasonable Conduct
When a person has been injured in an accident, she may be able to recover damages for her injuries if she can prove that the accident was caused by the negligence of another. In other words, if someone acted unreasonably and caused injury as a result, that person may be liable.
Proving negligence isn’t always easy. A plaintiff must show that 1) Defendant owed her a duty of care, 2) Defendant breached that duty of care, 3) the Defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff to be injured, and 4) Plaintiff suffered damages as a result.
In general, we all owe a duty of reasonable care to those around us. In other words, we should drive safely, look where we are going, and just exercise general common sense so that we don’t cause anyone else to be hurt by our actions. It is when we act unreasonably that we can get into trouble! If a plaintiff can prove unreasonable conduct, she can prove that Defendant breached his duty of reasonable care, which is often the hardest thing to prove in a negligence case. After all, reasonable minds may differ as to what is considered reasonable.
Luckily, courts have a method to help determine when Defendant’s conduct amounts to unreasonable conduct. It is called the “Learned Hand Test.” It is called this because it was first used by a judge named Learned Hand. It basically says that if the probability and gravity of harm outweigh the burden of protecting against the harm, the Defendant has acted unreasonably in failing to protect against the harm.
Think of it this way: Defendant has a swimming pool in her back yard. There is no fence around the pool or her yard and her neighborhood has lots of children in it. One of the neighborhood kids falls in the pool and drowns. The question becomes whether Defendant has breached her duty of care owed to that child by not installing a fence. When we apply the learned Hand Test, we first ask about the probability of harm. In this case, the probability of harm is high. There are lots of children in the neighborhood. Children are attracted to swimming pools. The probability of a child falling in and getting injured is very high.
Next, we look at the gravity of harm. If a child falls in a pool, he could drown. Therefore, the gravity of harm is great as the result could be death.
Finally, we look at the burden to protect against the harm and measure that against the probability and gravity of the harm. The cost of putting up a fence is very low compared to the risk of a child falling into the pool and drowning. Therefore, Defendant acted unreasonably by not putting up a fence and breached her duty of care to that child.
Of course, Plaintiff will also have to prove causation, which leaves us a topic for further discussion!