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What Is Negligence Per Se?


To prevail in a personal injury action and recover compensation, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. In other words, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s carelessness or recklessness was the proximate cause of their injuries. 

However, if the defendant violates a statute or breaks the law, and someone else is injured as a result, the doctrine of “negligence per se” may be invoked. In these cases, a jury does not have to consider whether the defendant’s actions were reasonable — instead, they must simply find that the violation caused the plaintiff’s injury.

What is Ordinary Negligence?

Negligence means the failure to act with reasonable care. It is one of the elements that must be demonstrated in a personal injury case. In addition to showing that a duty of care to the injured party existed, they must also show that the breach of it caused their injuries. Negligence can consist of unreasonable conduct, but it can also take the form of an omission or failure to act when a duty exists.

Effectively, the finding of negligence establishes the defendant’s fault — and they may be held legally liable for any harm that resulted due to their action or inaction.   

When Is Negligence Per Se Applicable in Personal Injury Cases?

When a plaintiff is hurt due to the defendant’s violation of a law, safety statute, or regulation, there is an inference of negligence. For instance, suppose a defendant caused the plaintiff to suffer car accident injuries because they violated the Vehicle and Traffic Law by running a red light. In this case, the defendant’s actions are assumed to be unreasonable — a jury would only need to determine that the defendant’s violation resulted in the harm sustained.     

To assert negligence per se, a plaintiff must be able to show the following criteria:

  • The defendant violated a law or statute meant to protect the plaintiff from the particular type of harm they suffered
  • The plaintiff belonged to the class of people the law was meant to protect
  • The defendant’s violation was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries

It’s crucial to understand that the doctrine of negligence per se can only be invoked when the plaintiff is a member of the class the statute was designed to protect. For example, if a safety statute is in place to protect construction workers from a particular type of harm, and a passerby is injured by a violation on the part of the contractor, the doctrine may not be applicable.

Potential Defenses to Negligence Per Se

There are a number of defenses a defendant may raise in a personal injury case in which the doctrine of negligence per se is asserted. In addition to using an affirmative defense such as comparative negligence, a defendant might argue that complying with the statute would have been impossible. If the defendant can show that complying with the regulation they disobeyed would have resulted in a greater risk of harm than violating it, they may have a viable excuse. A defendant may also avoid liability if they can demonstrate they violated the statute because they were faced with an emergency that was not caused by their own actions.

Contact an Experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney

If you have suffered injuries due to another’s negligence or violation of a safety statute, it’s essential to consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. With more than 30 years of experience, The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. is committed to providing the highest standard of legal services. Their aggressive representation helps to ensure that those who have been hurt due to others’ misconduct obtain the compensation they deserve.
The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has convenient office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, as well as mobile locations serving Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester County, Rockland County, Nassau County, and Suffolk County. Contact us today for a consultation.