If you have been injured, or a loved one has been killed, due to the negligence of another party, you may have a strong case for some type of personal injury lawsuit. Throughout the legal process, one of the terms that you will likely hear frequently is, ‘Duty of Care.’ While the basic concept is fairly self-evident, the way it is used in a legal context can be quite specific and it is something you need to understand.
What is a Legal Duty of care?
From a legal perspective, a duty of care is defined largely by what type of action a reasonable person would be expected to do, or not to do, in a given situation. For example, while a store owner may be reasonably expected to take steps to ensure the floors in their store are not wet and slippery, a customer at the same store does not share this same duty of care. Therefore, if someone slips and falls due to water on the floor, the store owner may be held liable, but even if a customer sees the water and does nothing, they are not likely to be held liable.
Determining Who Has a Duty of Care
One of the biggest challenges that an attorney will have in this type of case is proving that a given person had a duty of care that they did not meet. The type of care that one can be legally responsible for providing will depend on many factors. Some examples of this are as follows:
- Teachers – Teachers have a duty to protect the students in their care above and beyond what would be expected from a random adult in the same room as an unrelated child.
- Employers – Employers are generally required to make sure that their employees have a safe work environment.
- Property Owners – As was illustrated in the example above, property owners have many duties to keep guests on their property protected from a variety of different types of harm.
- Drivers – A driver on the road has a duty to operate their vehicle in a way that will not put other drivers or pedestrians in danger.
Limitations of the Duty of Care
Another factor that needs to be considered when evaluating duty of care in a personal injury case is the limitations that apply to this responsibility. Generally speaking, there are several things to consider when determining whether a duty of care will apply in a given situation, which are:
- Foreseeable – In order to be held responsible for a given event, the party must have been able to reasonably foresee the hazard. If the danger could not have been reasonably predicted, the party cannot be held responsible.
- Potential Risk – Even when there is a duty of care present, a person may not be legally obligated to fulfill it if they would be put at serious risk of danger or death. For example, if a student is caught in a building that is on fire, a teacher is not typically going to be legally obligated to run in to try to save them.
Every Case is Unique
The concept of duty of care is extremely important when it comes to personal injury and wrongful death cases. While it is good to have an understanding of what a duty of care is, this will not on its own determine the outcome of any specific case. There are many details that need to be considered, which is why it is so important to have an experienced attorney working on your behalf.