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In a nutshell, a breach of duty of care is simply not abiding by a reasonable standard of conduct that would cause someone harm. A breach of duty of care, for example, would be walking next to someone in a subway and ignoring them, maybe running, jogging through that subway car, and pushing people over.

That would be unsafe, and that would be a breach of the duty of care. You may not be intentionally trying to push people around, but because you’re trying to, for example, run a marathon in a train car, you’re going to cause damage to people, and it’s reasonably foreseeable that that will take place. So if you do that, you will breach your reasonable duty of care to society.

  • Video Transcript - What Is a ‘Breach of Duty of Care’ Under Tort Law?

    Video Transcript - What Is a ‘Breach of Duty of Care’ Under Tort Law?

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    0:03 who can sue for wrongful death under

    0:06 California law and many other

    0:07 jurisdictions include close family

    0:10 members such as fathers, sons and

    0:13 children sometimes siblings like sisters

    0:16 and brothers and also domestic partners

    0:19 under some state statutes. [music]"

A person commits a breach of duty when their actions fall short of the required level of care. It is one of the four elements of negligence. The defendant is deemed to have violated their duty if the defendant’s actions fell short of the expected level of care by texting while driving; for instance, a driver might violate his duty to drive safely around other drivers. Note that the jury’s decision on whether a defendant violated their duty is based on a matter of fact.

Essentially, the word “breach” refers to a failure to perform in the legal world. A person has violated the terms of the agreement if they breach a contract.

Someone else may suffer potential harm if someone breaches a duty of care they owe them. In reality, their injuries may be covered by a negligence claim.

Whenever you have legal concerns, always be sure to consult with a qualified attorney.

What Is a Duty of Care?

A legal duty one person owes to another is known as a duty of care (as mentioned above). The law heavily controls this duty due to a person’s profession, activity, or connection to others. As an example, according to state licensing boards and legislation, doctors and accountants have several professional care duties towards their patients.

Similarly, every driver has a duty of care to everyone else on the road. Driving carefully and following the speed limit is part of this duty of care. Therefore, breaking the law or driving recklessly is a breach of a driver’s duty of care. If this behavior causes an injury to someone, the driver may be responsible for their losses.

A duty of care exists where the plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the danger that the defendant contributed to creating. Example: the plaintiff fell into a manhole after a worker removed a cover without posting a warning. After that, the defendant volunteered to protect the plaintiff from harm.

Examples That Show a Defendant Breached Their Duty of Care

Proving that a defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff is the first step in any negligence lawsuit. The next stage is to prove that another party breached their duty of care.

Some common breaches include:

  • A driver who is speeding, texting while driving, and driving under the influence.
  • A property owner who fails to fix dangerous conditions on their property.
  • A doctor who provides substandard care and injures a patient.

What Are the Standards of Care in a Personal Injury Claim?

The defendant’s duty of care differs based on the plaintiff and defendant’s relationship.

Ordinary Negligence Claim

“That degree of care which ordinarily prudent persons exercise under the same or similar conditions” is the normal standard. In cases involving ordinary negligence, the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated their duty of care by failing to act the same way a reasonable person would in the same situation.

Professional Negligence Claim

When a professional offers a service to a client, such as when a doctor tends to a patient, this standard is applicable. Under similar circumstances, other qualified professionals exercise that level of care.

Let’s take the negligence case of a patient who needs surgery to repair a torn ligament in their left foot. An orthopedist, not the one who made the diagnosis, will execute the surgery. Surgery is performed on the right foot rather than the left because the surgeon misunderstood the patient’s chart.

Due to the likelihood that other surgeons operating in the same circumstances would have correctly read the patient’s chart, the orthopedist most certainly breached his or her duty in this case.

Negligence Per Se

People have a responsibility to uphold the law. If someone violates a law and causes harm, they have engaged in negligence per se if:

The injured plaintiff falls within the class of persons the statute is intended to protect, and the harm suffered is the type the legislation was designed to protect against.

Let’s say Bill owns a violent dog, for instance. He walks in through a park. There is a leash rule in place at the park. When Bill arrives at the park, he lets his dog roam freely. Then, when a young girl tries to pet the dog, the dog bites her hand.

This situation may serve as an example of negligence in general. A dog bite is the type of injury that the law is designed to avoid, and another person in the park belongs to the category of people that the leash law is meant to protect.

Relevant Statutes, Rules, and Regulations

Specific duties may be set out in the law. A law may specify the types of actions that a person must perform in particular circumstances. For example, there can be particular rules about what efforts the defendant must take to protect the community, if it is an explosives manufacturer or nuclear plant.

The Parties’ Relationship

The duty could depend on the parties’ relationship. As an example, parents are required by law to care for their children. Children in the care of teachers and childcare staff members may be subject to their protection. It is the responsibility of employees to ensure a safe environment for their workers. A doctor is required to adhere to the proper standard of care for their field of practice and specialty.

Premises liability principles are another aspect of personal injury law where the relationship between the parties indicates the kind of care that must be provided to the victim.

How a Breach of Duty Occurs in a Strict Liability Case

In some instances, you can hold someone liable for harm without having to prove negligence. Strict liability is the term for this. In cases of strict liability, a defendant is held responsible for their actions, regardless of the safety precautions they took or whether they intended to do any harm.

Some examples of strict liability include:

Abnormally dangerous activities: Activities that provide an unusual foreseeable risk of serious harm are those that do so even when reasonable care is taken. Additionally, the action is not one that is often performed. Any work involving explosives, nuclear energy, etc., can be regarded as an abnormally dangerous activity.

Product liability: When a product has harmful designs, manufacturing, or marketing flaws, the manufacturer is strictly liable.

Wild animal ownership: Owners of wild animals will be held strictly accountable if their animals cause harm to others.

Only specific circumstances can result in strict liability. The first step to financial recovery is knowing what kind of claim you might have.

How a Breach of Duty Occurs in a Negligence Claim

You might be entitled to file a negligence claim if you suffered harm as a result of someone else’s conduct. Following car crashes, trips and falls, or medical malpractice, negligence claims are constantly made.

A property owner has a duty to maintain property safely or alert others to potential hazards in the event of a slip and fall. Additionally, a doctor or other healthcare professional must provide treatment per the standard of care in a medical negligence case.

To succeed with a negligence claim, you must prove the components listed below:

  • Another party owed you a legal duty of care (as discussed above)
  • The defendant breached their duty
  • The breach caused you harm
  • You suffered damages.

You must prove that the other party injured you and acted negligently in order to claim that they breached their duty of care. Juries use the reasonable person standard of conduct test (objective standard) to decide whether a defendant was negligent.

A hypothetical person who uses common sense and sensible judgment to prevent harming others is referred to as reasonable; they do not exist. Furthermore, the jury will compare a defendant’s conduct to those of a reasonable person in the same situation. The jury may find that the defendant breached their duty if they decide that the defendant acted unreasonably.

A breach is just one element. Your claim will fail if you are unable to prove all of the elements of negligence. Additionally, if you contributed to the accident in any way, the law may limit or prohibit your recovery.

Contributory Negligence

How Are Damages Apportioned? (Reasonable Person Standard)

The “reasonable man” test, which specifically considers how much a person deviates from the norm of care that applies to all members of a community, is the method our courts use to award damages.

A comparison of the respective degrees of the negligence of the parties is used to establish who should be responsible for which portion of the damage. The percentage of each party’s deviation from the standard of a reasonable man is used to quantify their level of negligence. Furthermore, the percentage of damages that each party is responsible for is determined by comparing the two percentages.

Can Inaction be Unreasonable Behavior?

In some circumstances, inaction might constitute unreasonable behavior. This is true in situations where there is a special connection or when one person puts the other at risk of harm. An individual has an affirmative duty to act in such a situation. Failing to act drops below a reasonable standard of care.

What Is a Gross Negligence Case?

A basic breach of the duty of care due to others is considered negligence. Contrarily, gross negligence represents a significant departure from the expected standard.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer at Ehline Law Firm for a Free Consultation

Negligence is complicated. If you were hurt due to someone else’s negligence, whether in an accident or by a property owner, and you need assistance, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer at Ehline Law Firm—call (213) 596-9642 to speak with our legal team right away. Our personal injury attorneys will review your options for suing the party held liable for damages and claiming compensation.

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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