Negligence per se is a special type of negligence wherein the defendant is found negligent as a matter of law because they violated a statute that is designed to protect against the type of accident or harm caused by their actions. This concept is important because proving negligence is a central factor in any accident injury case.
Under normal circumstance, proving negligence requires that your lawyer show four things:
- A duty was owed to a plaintiff,
- The defendant breached that duty,
- The event was a proximate cause of the injury, and
- An injury or damage was suffered by the plaintiff.
A defendant who violated a law that was meant to protect the public—e.g. a driver who caused a wreck by running a red light—can be found negligent per se; thus, the injured party can bypass proving the first two elements of regular negligence and skip to showing whether the violation was the “cause in fact” of the plaintiff’s injury.
It is absolutely critical to note that in Florida only violations of non-traffic penal statutes will trigger negligence per se. So, for example, in a drunk driving accident, showing that the driver was drunk would establish negligence pe se, because the law that prohibits drunk driving is a penal statute. However, showing that the driver was speeding (a traffic law violation) may not be sufficient to trigger negligence per se; although, it can still be used as evidence of negligence.