What is Duty of Care? 

 February 23, 2015

By  LMW Attorneys

Duty of Care Definition

Duty of care can be tough to define. Most simply, duty of care is a person’s responsibility to not inflict damage or harm as a result of negligence.

More elaborately, it is the legal obligation of an individual to act towards others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence as a reasonable person in the circumstances would. If one’s actions do meet this standard, his or her acts are considered negligent. In a lawsuit for negligence, duty of care is the first element that must be established.

To better understand the definition of duty of care, we must look at it as an element of negligence.

Elements of Negligence

The following factors must be present for a negligence case to be established:

  1.   The defendant has a duty of care to the plaintiff.
  2.   The defendant committed a breach of duty or care.
  3.   The plaintiff’s loss or harm was a direct cause of the defendant’s breach of duty.
  4.   The plaintiff can prove damages.

Duty of Care

One possesses duty of care when the law recognizes a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff that obligates the defendant to act in a certain manner towards the plaintiff. The standard by which one is expected to treat another individual is based on how a reasonable person would react in the same situation; however, the definition of “reasonable” varies by case.

For example, a physician might be held to a different standard of care in helping a person in need of medical attention than someone with no professional medical knowledge would be. However, for the physician to be held to a standard of behavior in the first place, it must have been established that he or she had an obligation to treat the person in need a certain way.

Breach of Duty of Care

Duty of care is breached when it can be proven that an individual has not adhered to the appropriate standard of care and therefore acted negligently. This may mean the individual either did something he or she should not have done or failed to something he or she should have done.

Duty of Care Examples

Example 1: Amy owns her own cupcake business. One day, she accidentally uses spoiled eggs while baking a batch for a customer. The customer consumes the cupcakes and suffers severe food poisoning as a direct result. Although Amy was not aware the eggs she used were spoiled, it is her responsibility as a business owner to take proper health and sanitation precautions in her kitchen. Amy had a duty of care to her customer and she breached it.

Example 2: A baseball team is playing a game at a local public field. One player hits a foul ball that makes its way into the bleachers and hits an observer on the head, severely injuring him. The player has a duty to act reasonably toward the audience, but hitting a foul ball would not likely fall outside the realm of reasonable behavior. While the injury is a direct effect of the player’s action, the player did not breach duty of care.

Consult the Attorneys You Can Trust

Lawsuits for negligence often require extensive research and investigation, so action must be taken quickly. If you are considering filing a personal injury claim but are unsure whether duty of care was present in your case, call Laporte, Mulligan & Werner-Watkins, P.A. for a free consultation.