What Is Negligence, Legally Speaking?

If you made mistakes as a teenager that could potentially hurt your career as an adult, learn from my family's experience on how to help with that situation.

What Is Negligence, Legally Speaking?

25 November 2019
 Categories: Law, Blog

Knowing that you were harmed because another party failed to do their duty to protect you can be a terrible feeling. From a legal perspective, though, you may wonder what makes a situation bad enough that it justifies compensation. Let's review the topic from the perspective of a negligence attorney.

Establishing a Duty of Care

At the core of all negligence laws is the idea that someone has a duty of care. This is not, however, a given in all situations. Instead, a duty of care is formed when someone knowingly enters into circumstances where they should protect others. For example, a building supervisor in an apartment complex has a duty of care because they agreed to look after the location and, by extension, its tenants and visitors.


Generally speaking, an invitation is necessary for negligence to occur. This is the idea that you were invited to a place in some way, such as when a guest comes to your house. The invitee concept is essentially an exception that prevents people engaged in wrongdoing, such as burglars, from suing homeowners.

It should be noted that extreme conduct, such as the classic case of an Iowa couple rigging up a shotgun to protect valuables in a house they owned, can end up being an exception to the invitee rule. Some states, notably California, are moving away from the invitee requirement completely, meaning that even a burglar could sue you for negligence.

Proximate Cause

A defendant might still be off the hook for negligence if they're not the proximate cause of the harm the victim experienced. The classic version of this is what's known as force majeure, or so-called Acts of God. Essentially, the idea is that a person can't be held liable for things that were beyond their power. For example, a landlord probably wouldn't be responsible for injuries suffered by tenants searching through the wreckage of a house in the hours after a tornado because the landlord has no control over the weather.


Even if there was a duty of care and some person or organization can be identified as the proximate cause of something, it might still not be compensable negligence. A person could, in theory, do the most dangerous thing imaginable, but potential harm might pass by everyone and cause no trouble. Typically, the court's attitude toward these sorts of events is "no harm, no foul," unless an emotional trauma can be proven.  

About Me
teenage mistakes that could ruin adult careers

My son has had the goal of becoming an attorney since he was about 14 years old. Unfortunately, he made a very poor decision with a group of friends when he was 16 that put his future plans in jeopardy. When my son told me what had happened and we received the citation, I knew that we had to hire an attorney to help him through this. I could not see how a small incident such as this should hurt his chances for success when he is an adult. Thankfully, things worked out for us, but it was a long journey which you can follow on our blog.