What Is Prima Facie Negligence and How Do You Prove It?

Posted on: Sat May 22

San Antonio Personal Injury Lawyers Understanding the law comes with many challenges, not least among them the prevalence of Latin terms and what many people call “legalese.” Often, people get into a lot of trouble simply because they don’t understand a contract or other legal document.

This is why you must hire a lawyer to help when you’re dealing with a legal situation. Lawyers have been studying the language of the law for years, which means they can tell you what the Latin and legalese mean. Today, we’re going to look at one of the common terms you might hear when dealing with personal injury law: prima facie negligence. We’ll look at what it means, when it’s used, and other basics in prima facie negligence cases.

What Is Prima Facie Negligence?

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School defines prima facie negligence in this way: “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct).”

The phrase prima facie is a Latin phrase that, literally translated, means “at first view” or “at first appearance.” You can also think of it as meaning “self-evident.” When combined with negligence, it means the failure of someone to act (or not act) in a way that a reasonable person would deem appropriate under the circumstances.

This concept can apply in many accidents such as automobile accidents or workplace accidents. If someone failed to act with proper care and caused another person to suffer an accident, they were likely acting with prima facie negligence. However, there is a little more that goes into the process of determining prima facie negligence in a court of law.

How Is Prima Facie Negligence Proven?

There are four main elements to proving that prima facie negligence is involved in a case:

  1. The defendant (the negligent person) owed a legal duty to the plaintiff (the injured person).
  2. The defendant breached that duty.
  3. The plaintiff suffered some kind of injury because of the defendant’s negligence.
  4. There is proof that the defendant’s negligence resulted in the injury.

In many cases of prima facie negligence, the hand formula (also known as the BPL formula), will determine negligence. This algebraic formula says if B is greater than P and L, the defendant is guilty. B is equal to the burden of precautions the defendant could have taken, P is equal to the probability that an accident will occur, and L is equal to the magnitude of the resulting loss.

If the burden of taking precautions is greater than the probability and magnitude of loss that might result from an accident, the defendant does not have to take the precautions and you cannot hold them liable. If, however, the probability and magnitude of loss are greater than the burden of preventing them, the defendant should take precautions and will be held liable if they do not.

Business owners or landowners who invite people onto their property have the duty to warn those visitors about dangerous situations on the property. Vehicle drivers have the duty to follow all road rules and to avoid situations that would make it difficult for them to drive safely. If someone ignores these or other similarly obvious rules, negligence is pretty easy to prove.

In What Cases Is Prima Facie Negligence Common?

Some of the most common prima facie negligence cases are those that cause personal injuries.

For example:

  • A car accident in which a driver was under the influence of alcohol and incapable of making appropriate decisions while driving.
  • A slip and fall accident in which a wet floor or carelessly placed object causes someone to fall.
  • Someone who knows that their dog is dangerous continues to allow it out and/or take it for walks and it bites someone.

These are three of the most common types of personal injury cases that involve prima facie negligence. In most cases, prima facie negligence is, by its very nature, easy to prove. However, there can be some complications.

A defendant might try to insist that the burden of preventing the accident was greater than the probability of the accident happening and the magnitude of the loss that resulted from it. In such a situation, you need to prove the probability was high and that the loss was large.

If obvious negligence injured you, keep plenty of records about what happened and what you lost (such as time off from work, medical expenses, property damage, and pain and suffering).

George Salinas
Attorney, George Salinas

For example:

  • Get an official police report about the incident if you can.
  • Collect and keep all of your medical records from any treatments you receive for your accident-related injuries.
  • Take photos at the accident scene if possible.
  • Keep a journal about the pain and suffering that the accident has caused for you and your family.

With this kind of evidence in hand, a prima facie negligence case will be much easier to prove.

Should You Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Prima Facie Negligence Claim?

Because of the possibility of the defendant hiring a lawyer to protect themselves and making false claims about their innocence, you will want to hire a lawyer as well. Personal injury attorneys are experts at understanding the law and helping prove negligence. They can help you deal with all the details that might not be obvious to the untrained eye.

Accidents of any kind are terrible and painful. You don’t want to manage a legal battle in addition to the pain and suffering you’ve experienced due to your injuries. If prima facie negligence harmed you, reach out to a personal injury lawyer today to get the help you need.