California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

400. Negligence—Essential Factual Elements


[Name of plaintiff] claims that [he/she] was harmed by [name of defendant]’s negligence. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] was negligent;

2. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

3. That [name of defendant]’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.


New September 2003; Revised June 2005, December 2007, December 2011

Directions for Use

In medical malpractice or professional negligence cases, the word “medical” or “professional” should be added before the word “negligence” in the first paragraph. The word “harm” is used throughout these instructions, instead of terms like “loss,” “injury,” and “damage,” because “harm” is all-purpose and suffices in their place.

Sources and Authority

  • Civil Code section 1714(a) provides in part: “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself.”
  • “Although it is true that some exceptions have been made to the general principle that a person is liable for injuries caused by his failure to exercise reasonable care in the circumstances, it is clear that in the absence of statutory provision declaring an exception to the fundamental principle enunciated by section 1714 of the Civil Code, no such exception should be made unless clearly supported by public policy.” (Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 112 [70 Cal.Rptr. 97, 443 P.2d 561].)
  • “ ‘The elements of a cause of action for negligence are well established. They are “(a) a legal duty to use due care; (b) a breach of such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury.” ’ ” (Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917 [50 Cal.Rptr.2d 309, 911 P.2d 496].)
  • “[T]he existence of a duty is a question of law for the court.” (Ky. Fried Chicken of Cal. v. Superior Court (1997) 14 Cal.4th 814, 819 [59 Cal.Rptr.2d 756, 927 P.2d 1260].)
  • “In the Rowland [Rowland, supra, 69 Cal.2d at p. 113] decision, this court identified several considerations that, when balanced together, may justify a departure from the fundamental principle embodied in Civil Code section 1714: ‘the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.’ As we have also explained, however, in the absence of a statutory provision establishing an exception to the general rule of Civil Code section 1714, courts should create one only where ‘clearly supported by public policy.’ ” (Cabral v. Ralphs Grocery Co. (2011) 51 Cal.4th 764, 771 [122 Cal.Rptr.3d 313, 248 P.3d 1170], internal citations omitted.)
  • “[T]he concept of foreseeability of risk of harm in determining whether a duty should be imposed is to be distinguished from the concept of “ ‘foreseeability” in two more focused, fact-specific settings’ to be resolved by a trier of fact. ‘First, the [trier of fact] may consider the likelihood or foreseeability of injury in determining whether, in fact, the particular defendant’s conduct was negligent in the first place. Second, foreseeability may be relevant to the [trier of fact’s] determination of whether the defendant’s negligence was a proximate or legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury.’ ” (Burns v. Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 479, 488, fn. 8 [93 Cal.Rptr.3d 130], internal citation omitted.)
  • “By making exceptions to Civil Code section 1714’s general duty of ordinary care only when foreseeability and policy considerations justify a categorical no-duty rule, we preserve the crucial distinction between a determination that the defendant owed the plaintiff no duty of ordinary care, which is for the court to make, and a determination that the defendant did not breach the duty of ordinary care, which in a jury trial is for the jury to make. . . . While the court deciding duty assesses the foreseeability of injury from ‘the category of negligent conduct at issue,’ if the defendant did owe the plaintiff a duty of ordinary care the jury ‘may consider the likelihood or foreseeability of injury in determining whether, in fact, the particular defendant’s conduct was negligent in the first place.’ An approach that instead focused the duty inquiry on case- specific facts would tend to ‘eliminate the role of the jury in negligence cases, transforming the question of whether a defendant breached the duty of care under the facts of a particular case into a legal issue to be decided by the court . . . .’ ” (Cabral, supra, 51 Cal.4th at pp. 772–773, original italics, internal citations omitted.)
  • “[W]hile foreseeability with respect to duty is determined by focusing on the general character of the event and inquiring whether such event is ‘likely enough in the setting of modern life that a reasonably thoughtful [person] would take account of it in guiding practical conduct’, foreseeability in evaluating negligence and causation requires a ‘more focused, fact-specific’ inquiry that takes into account a particular plaintiff’s injuries and the particular defendant’s conduct.” (Laabs v. Southern California Edison Company (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1260, 1273 [97 Cal.Rptr.3d 241], internal citation omitted.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 831–838, 860–862, 865, 866

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) §§ 1.4–1.18

1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 1, Negligence: Duty and Breach, §§ 1.01–1.31, Ch. 2, Causation, §§ 2.01–2.11, Ch. 3, Proof of Negligence, §§ 3.01–3.34 (Matthew Bender)

33 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 380, Negligence, § 380.10 (Matthew Bender)

16 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 165, Negligence, §§ 165.10, 165.20 (Matthew Bender)