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Negligence per se is a legal doctrine used in personal injury cases. It establishes a defendant’s breach of duty based on the violation of a statute or regulation. This concept is important because it simplifies the plaintiff’s burden of proof. When a defendant violates a law designed to protect the public, and that violation causes harm, negligence per se applies. Understanding this doctrine helps both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases. It clarifies the circumstances under which legal responsibility is assigned.

What is negligence per se?

Negligence per se means a person is automatically considered negligent if they violate a law. This law must protect a certain class of people and prevent a specific type of harm. Unlike ordinary negligence, it doesn’t require proving the defendant breached their duty. Instead, showing the violation of the law and resulting harm is enough. For example, if a driver runs a red light and causes an accident, they can be found negligent per se because they broke a traffic law designed to prevent such harm.

Elements of negligence per se

To prove negligence per se, three elements must be present. First, there must be a violation of a statute or regulation. Second, the violation must cause harm to the plaintiff. Third, the plaintiff must be a member of the class the statute intends to protect, and the harm must be of the type the statute aims to prevent. For example, a building code violation leading to a tenant’s injury would fulfill these elements.

When does negligence per se apply?

It applies when someone violates a statute or regulation, causing harm to a person the law protects. The law must intend to prevent the specific type of harm experienced. For instance, traffic laws aim to prevent accidents, so a violation like speeding can lead to negligence per se if it causes an accident. This doctrine is common in personal injury cases where regulatory violations directly result in injury. Knowing when it applies helps clarify legal responsibilities and potential liabilities.

Examples of negligence per se

Examples of negligence per se include a factory ignoring safety regulations, leading to an employee’s injury. Another example is a retailer selling alcohol to minors, resulting in an accident. These cases involve specific laws meant to protect certain individuals and prevent particular harms. When such laws are violated and cause injury, the violator is automatically deemed negligent. For instance, if a building code requires fire escapes and a landlord fails to provide them, causing harm during a fire, this would be an example of a statutory violation leading to liability.

Differences between negligence per se and ordinary negligence

Negligence per se simplifies the plaintiff’s case by presuming negligence when a law is violated. This doctrine focuses on the breach of a specific statute or regulation designed to protect a class of people from certain harms. Ordinary negligence requires proving that the defendant owed a duty of care, breached that duty, and directly caused the plaintiff’s damages. Each element must be independently proven. In negligence per se, the statutory violation itself establishes the breach, making the plaintiff’s burden of proof lighter and often leading to quicker case resolutions.

Valid defenses against statutory violation allegations

Defenses to negligence per se include proving that the statutory violation was reasonable under the circumstances. For example, if a driver breaks a traffic law to avoid an imminent accident, they might not be held negligent per se. Another defense is showing that the plaintiff was not within the class of people the statute aims to protect, or the harm was not the type the statute intended to prevent. Additionally, if compliance with the statute was impossible or more dangerous than non-compliance, these could also serve as valid defenses.

Impact on legal cases

Negligence per se significantly impacts legal cases by streamlining the plaintiff’s burden of proof. When a statutory violation causes harm, the court presumes the defendant’s negligence, focusing the case on whether this violation led to the plaintiff’s injuries. This presumption can lead to quicker resolutions and potentially higher damages for plaintiffs. It simplifies the litigation process, reducing the need for extensive proof of negligence. Understanding its impact helps both plaintiffs and defendants prepare their cases more effectively, influencing strategies and potential outcomes in personal injury claims.


Negligence per se is a crucial legal concept that assigns automatic negligence for statutory violations causing harm. Recognizing when it applies and its implications can greatly influence the outcome of personal injury cases. This understanding is essential for navigating legal responsibilities and defending or pursuing claims effectively.

Alexander Alfano

Alexander Alfano is the Director and Chief Legal Counsel of Financial Legal Group INC. He is a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), a member of the Federal Bar, and is licensed to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.