Personal Injury Lawyer
In a personal injury lawsuit alleging that the defendant was negligent in causing the plaintiff’s injuries, a central issue is whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. To prove that the defendant acted negligently, the plaintiff must first show that the defendant had some duty to protect the plaintiff from or to prevent the type of injury that occurred. As a personal injury lawyer can explain, there are some general duties of care that each person owes to the general public, and other special duties of care that arise from the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant.
Who Owes a Duty of Care?
Each person owes others a duty to act as a reasonably prudent person would so as not to create a risk of harm to others. However, there are other relationships in which the defendant owes the plaintiff a more specific duty of care, which include:
- Creation of risk: if the defendant’s conduct created or contributed to the risk of harm that injured the plaintiff, the defendant had a duty to act to protect the plaintiff from that harm.
- Voluntary undertaking: if the defendant voluntarily undertook to protect the plaintiff from harm, they owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
- Knowledge: if the defendant knew or should have known that his conduct would cause harm to the plaintiff, the defendant owed a duty to protect the plaintiff from that harm.
- Business relationships: a business owner owes a duty of care to customers to prevent injury to them and an innkeeper owes a duty of care to prevent guests from becoming injured.
- Employers owe a duty of care to make sure the work environment is healthy and safe for employees.
- Property owners owe a duty to protect visitors on the premises from injuries caused by unreasonable risk.
- Drivers owe a duty to drive reasonably and avoid causing accidents with other drivers.
- Pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies owe a duty to customers to provide accurate prescriptions, dosages, instructions, and medical information.
- Manufacturers of consumer products owe a duty to prevent injuries caused by a defect or failure of their products.
Additionally, professionals owe a heightened duty of care to their clients: they must act as a reasonably prudent professional with the same training and experience would. In other words, they must use their professional training and judgment in exercising their duty of care.
Using Negligence Per Se to Establish the Duty of Care
In some situations, the plaintiff can use a statute to establish the duty of care the defendant owed them. The doctrine of negligence per se permits a plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s conduct violated a statute to establish both that the defendant owed them a duty and that the defendant breached that duty. If the plaintiff proves a violation, they are entitled to a finding that the defendant was negligent as a matter of law. In order for negligence per se to apply, the plaintiff must show that the statute the defendant violated was designed to prevent the type of harm the plaintiff suffered, and that the plaintiff is within the class of persons the statute was designed to protect.
For example, a driver will automatically be considered negligent if they violate a traffic law and cause an accident. There are exceptions to the doctrine of negligence per se where the statute is unclear, the defendant exercised reasonable care in attempting to comply with the statute, and the defendant’s violation of the statute caused less harm than would have resulted if the defendant had complied with the statute.
Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on the duty of care in negligence lawsuits.