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Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld
J.D

November 6, 2022

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Many people know that there are four parts to the legal test of negligence in personal injury law. They have probably used the term “duty of care” used frequently without really knowing what it means. The duty of care is one of the central concepts of tort law.

It is the basis for personal injury lawsuits. In order to be in a position where you can receive financial compensation from someone who injures you, they must have owed you the duty to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances.

If they breached the duty of care, and you were injured because of it, you may be eligible for a settlement or jury award. First, you should contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case.

Personal Injury Case Duty of Care

In order to pursue a personal injury or medical malpractice case, you must understand and apply the doctrine of ‘duty of care’.

You Must Prove Four Elements to Hold Someone Liable for Your Injuries

After you have suffered a personal injury, you may seek to file a claim against the responsible party’s liability insurance. An injured person is not assured of receiving financial compensation, even when someone else has engaged in reckless behavior or ignored foreseeable risk.

Instead, you have to meet your burden of proof to show that there was a breach of the duty of care.

In every personal injury case, there is a four-part test that you must meet in order to receive financial compensation for your injuries. This test comes from common law, and it is applied in practically every single personal injury case. The elements are:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care to use reasonable care under the circumstances
  • The defendant breached their legal obligation by doing something that a reasonable person would not have done under the circumstances (they did not exercise ordinary care)
  • You suffered an injury to your person, emotions, or reputation
  • You would not have been injured had it not been for the actions of the defendant

The Duty of Care Is a Legal and Moral Obligation

The duty of care is one of those legal terms that is often used but seldom understood. When someone is engaging in any type of activity, they do not have the legal ability to do whatever they want. Otherwise, people would walk around with no cares whatsoever, and there would practically be anarchy in the world.

It gives without saying that a person cannot cause intentional injury or actively try to harm someone else.

The Duty of Care Is the Bedrock of Tort Law

In order for someone to have the legal obligation to pay another person for an injury, they must have some type of legal obligation to them.

According to the Restatement of Torts:

Actors engaging in conduct that creates risks to others have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid causing physical harm.

In other words, if someone is in a position where they may cause harm to someone else, they should avoid hurting them by acting unreasonably. If one does not owe a duty to someone else, they do not need to pay for a breach. For example, you would owe very little by way of duty to someone who is trespassing in your home.

Duty of Care Is Not a Challenging Part of a Personal Injury Case

According to the Restatement of Torts:

An actor whose negligence is a factual cause of physical harm is subject to liability for any such harm within the scope of liability, unless the court determines that the ordinary duty of reasonable care is inapplicable.

What this means is that the court would seem to imply that a duty of care exists when one causes injury to someone else unless it specifically finds that the duty does not exist.

Most often, a court would proceed directly to determine what the duty of care was, whether there was foreseeable injury and whether someone breached the duty of care. A court does not often spend much time on this first element of a torts case.

For example:

  • A driver on the road owes a duty of care to other drivers and their passengers, pedestrians, motorcycle drivers, and bicyclists
  • A surgeon owes a duty of care to a patient
  • A product manufacturer or seller owes a duty of care to those who purchase and use the product
  • An oil company owes a duty of care to people who live in a surrounding area to use reasonable care in extracting and shipping the product in order to avoid an accident

Where a Duty of Care May Not Exist

Remember that there must be some legal relationship or connection between the person doing something wrong and the victim. While a duty of care exists in most circumstances, there are some instances in which it does not exist.

For example, in product liability law, some courts require that there be privity between the seller and the injured consumer. Privity arises when there is a business relationship between the seller and buyer.

If someone is injured when they have not bought a product directly, they may have to go through additional steps to recover financially for their injuries.

There may also not be a duty of care when someone’s actions may not foreseeably harm another person. The harm could be so unforeseeable that there may not be a duty of care.

The Duty of Care Is Based on a Reasonable Person Standard

In practically every personal injury case, the jury would have to decide what the “reasonable man” would have done under the circumstances. In order to understand this concept, you would need to know more about the reasonable person and what they would do.

The “reasonable man” is not expected to be a superhuman. They may be aware of their care responsibilities.

There is an understanding in personal injury law that accidents can and do happen sometimes. The plaintiff’s injury may have happened no matter how much care someone else took under the circumstances.

People and Entities Owe a Duty of Care

The concept of duty of care may also be illustrated by an example or two of when it is owed and who owes it.

A company engaged in the business of manufacturing products that you buy owes you a duty of care. The duty that they owe you is to manufacture a product that is reasonably safe for its intended use.

If there are product defects, they may be strictly liable in a lawsuit. A product defect can include:

  • Design defects
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Marketing defects

You are also owed a duty of care by a doctor or a hospital when you are getting medical care. When delivering medical care, the doctor has a general duty to act as a doctor of reasonable training and expertise would. They are not required to act as the best in their field would under similar circumstances.

The Duty of Care Owed Is Also a Legal Inquiry

When someone owes a duty of care to another, the question centers on exactly what the duty of care is. For example, there are different duties of care in a slip-and-fall case. If someone was a trespasser on the property of another, the property owner only needs to refrain from deliberately injuring them. This is perhaps the lowest duty of care.

At the other end of the spectrum, a common carrier owes one of the highest duties of care to others. A common carrier is one who holds themselves out to the public by offering transportation services for a fee. A common carrier owes

Notable Exceptions from the Duty of Care

While you may think that employers have a duty to keep their employees safe from injury on the job, the practical aspects of the workers’ compensation system keep injured workers from being able to sue their employer.

An employer must provide their employee with workers’ compensation insurance according to state law. The tradeoff for this is that the employee cannot sue an employer for negligent behavior.

Strict Liability and the Duty of Care

There are some individuals and businesses that not only owe you a duty of care, but they can also be strictly liable when they have breached it. Strict liability means that you do not need to show that someone acted unreasonably under the circumstances.

Instead, the mere fact that something happened would shift the burden of proof onto the defendant to show a reason why they should not be held liable for breaching their duty of care obligations.

An Organization’s Duty of Care

Companies can be made to pay when either they or their employees cause harm to someone else. When a person injures someone else, they can be an agent of their employer for purposes of tort law.

The rule is that the care duty for the organization comes when an employee is acting within the scope of their position. If that is the case, they are one and the same as the business that employs them. Having a business to sue is the best outcome for you as a plaintiff because they likely have more insurance and assets to pay for your injuries.

One area where a company can escape liability for its behavior is employee health and safety. Even though a company can and should protect employees by following OSHA rules, they cannot be sued in most personal injury cases because they pay to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees.

The Duty of Care Could Also Apply Outside the Personal Injury Context

You may hear the term duty of care used in the business context. For example, some people may owe a fiduciary duty to others. An executor of an estate would owe fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries. A corporate officer or director could owe a fiduciary duty to shareholders when they make business decisions.

In practically all contexts, the theory of the duty of care is virtually the same. Someone must make reasonable efforts to act with a certain degree of responsibility. They cannot act with utter disregard for their legal duty when making a business decision. They must act in good faith and often put someone else’s well-being ahead of their own best interests.

You Can Take Legal Action When Someone Has Violated the Duty of Care

Once someone has violated the duty of care to act reasonably, they would have a legal obligation to pay for your damages when they were the proximate cause of your injuries. First, you would need to prove every single element of negligence.

An experienced personal injury attorney will help you gather the necessary evidence and fight for financial compensation. Not only do you need to show liability, but you must also negotiate or persuade a jury to give you the right amount of damages. Your personal injury harm could be considerable, and you need to be adequately paid.

Call an Attorney to Recover Damages for Negligence

The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers help you take legal action to recover for the negligent behavior of others. It does not matter whether your injury happens on the road or in a work environment – we are here for you. To schedule your free initial consultation, call us at (888) 424-575 or send us a message online.

We work for you on a contingency basis, meaning we are not paid until you get a settlement or jury award. We will work for you to take the necessary legal action

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