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What is Negligence Per Se?

A key element in personal injury cases is establishing liability. Why must the defendant compensate you for your injuries? Typically, personal injury claims hinge on negligence—meaning the defendant did not behave as a "reasonably prudent person" would. However, determining what constitutes this level of care is subjective, and trial outcomes may vary if a jury decides the question.

This is where the concept of negligence per se can be particularly useful. Negligence per se is a legal doctrine simplifies the process of proving negligence by establishing liability based on the violation of a statute or regulation. Under negligence per se, if a defendant violates a law designed to protect a certain class of people (including the plaintiff) from a specific type of harm, and the plaintiff is injured as a result, the law assumes the defendant's liability for the breach of duty. Essentially, the violation of the statute or regulation serves as conclusive evidence of negligence.

The Criteria for Negligence Per Se in California

In California, for negligence per se to apply, certain criteria must be met:

  1. The defendant violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation.

  2. The violation caused injury or harm to a person the statute was designed to protect.

  3. The injury suffered was of the type the statute was intended to prevent.

  4. The person injured was a member of the class of persons the statute or regulation aimed to protect.

To illustrate the application of negligence per se, consider the case of a motor vehicle accident involving a driver who was speeding in a school zone and hit a pedestrian. California Vehicle Code Section 22352(b) specifies lower speed limits in school zones during hours when children are present to reduce the risk of pedestrian accidents. If a pedestrian, especially a child, is hit and injured by a driver exceeding these speed limits during the designated times, negligence per se can apply. The injured pedestrian (or their representative) would not need to prove the traditional elements of negligence because the driver's violation of the specific vehicle code establishes liability.

In this scenario, the plaintiff must still prove causation and damages—that is, the defendant's violation of the statute directly caused the injury, and the extent of the injury resulted in specific damages. However, the application of negligence per se significantly streamlines the plaintiff's case by focusing on the consequences of the statutory violation rather than the broader aspects of duty and breach.


Negligence per se is a powerful doctrine within California personal injury law that can play an important role in holding individuals accountable when their unlawful actions result in harm to others. Since negligence per se eliminates the need to establish that the defendant's conduct fell below the standard of a "reasonably prudent person" -- typically a question within the province of the jury to decide -- application of this legal principle can reduce the uncertainty inherent in taking a personal injury case to trial.


Obtaining a settlement that adequately covers your immediate and future needs can be a challenging task, even when there's clear evidence of wrongdoing and negligence by the offending party. In such cases, an experienced attorney can provide crucial assistance in navigating the legal complexities involved. If you have been injured in an accident, contact Phillips & Associates for a free consultation today. We will work diligently and aggressively towards securing the best possible outcome in your case.


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