Accidents are common, and they happen for a variety of reasons. Although some accidents are nobody’s fault, many are the result of negligence on the part of a person or entity. 

In the state of Missouri, a party is legally responsible for injuries caused to another due to the failure to exercise ordinary care. However, to receive compensation for such injuries, the injury victim must prove the at-fault party’s negligence in a personal injury claim or lawsuit. In this article, we examine the legal concept of negligence. 

Elements of Negligence in Missouri

In a personal injury lawsuit, negligence is the failure to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under similar circumstances. In other words, negligence occurs when someone suffers an injury due to another’s carelessness. 

In Missouri, negligence consists of four elements, each of which a plaintiff must prove to succeed in a personal injury case. As explained in detail below, the elements of negligence are duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. 

Duty of Care

Duty of Care

Duty is the first element of negligence in Missouri. Each person has a general duty to use care in performing tasks that could result in injury to someone else. 

For example, all drivers owe a general duty to everyone else on the road. In addition, some individuals owe a special duty of care to other people due to the nature of their positions. For example, educators owe a special duty of care to students who are left in their care. 

Breach of Duty

Next, a plaintiff in a personal injury case in Missouri must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. In most cases, determining whether a breach occurred requires a careful examination of the facts. 

For example, a driver who falls asleep while driving and causes an accident has breached their duty to keep other drivers safe. 

In Missouri, a defendant’s breach of duty may also be established when a defendant violates a statute or ordinance. This is known as negligence per se

To prove negligence per se, a plaintiff must demonstrate the following: 

  • The defendant violated a statute or ordinance
  • The plaintiff is within the class of persons intended to be protected by the statute or ordinance
  • The injury must be of the nature that the statute or ordinance was designed to protect against
  • The violation of the statute or ordinance was the proximate cause of the injury 

A breach of duty usually involves examining what a reasonable person would’ve done in the same situation. 


After proving that the defendant breached a duty to the plaintiff, the injured party must demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury. Under Missouri law, there are two components to causation: cause-in-fact and proximate cause.


Cause-in-fact is also called the “but for” test or “actual cause.” Cause-in-fact means that the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s conduct. If a plaintiff can prove that their injuries wouldn’t have occurred without the defendant’s act or omission, they have established cause-in-fact.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause exists if a plaintiff’s injury naturally flows from the defendant’s conduct. In other words, for proximate cause to exist, a plaintiff’s injury must have been reasonably foreseeable based on the defendant’s conduct. Proximate cause limits a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit from claiming events in a chain of causation led to their injuries if such events were too remote.



Finally, to establish negligence in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove to the court that they were harmed or injured in some way by the defendant’s conduct. In other words, even if a defendant breaches a duty to a plaintiff, a resulting lawsuit won’t succeed if the plaintiff suffered no actual harm due to the breach. 

For example, if a defendant’s conduct causes a plaintiff to skid off the road, but the plaintiff suffers no personal or property damage in the event, they cannot recover any compensation from the defendant in a personal injury case based on a theory of negligence. 

Contact a St. Louis Personal Injury Lawyer To Discuss Your Negligence Claim  

If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident in St. Louis, Missouri, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side. 

At Schultz & Myers Personal Injury Lawyers an experienced attorney will aggressively pursue financial compensation on your behalf, doing everything possible to ensure that your case has a successful outcome. We’ll help you gather evidence proving each element of negligence so that you can recover economic and non-economic damages. Contact us today at (314) 444-4444 to schedule a free initial consultation.