Building a case of negligence against a person or business that one believes caused an accident (such as a car wreck or a slip and fall at a restaurant) is a multi-step process. The first step is establishing that the party from whom the plaintiff seeks to recover money damages owed a legal duty of care to the plaintiff. Whether or not a duty exists is usually a legal question that revolves around the relationship between the parties. The second step of a negligence claim is proving that the defendant breached the duty of care that was owed to the plaintiff; this is usually a factual question. The remaining elements are harm to the plaintiff and causation between the defendant’s breach of duty and the harm to the plaintiff.
When the parties disagree about whether the plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence of these elements to proceed to trial, the trial court may be called upon to decide (via a summary judgment motion) whether the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, even if all of the plaintiff’s allegations are construed in the light most favorable to him or her. A party aggrieved by a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary judgment has a right to appeal the court’s order to a higher court.