The Duty of Care in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Every person has a legal duty to act reasonably so as to prevent injury to others. A person may be liable in a personal injury lawsuit for harm they have caused others if they fail to meet this legal duty. For example, if a driver runs a red light and hits another car, injuring them, the injured driver can sue for their injuries and damage to their car in a personal injury lawsuit, because the first driver breached their duty of care not to unreasonably endanger others. They will be liable even if they did not intend to injure the other driver, because they were negligent in breaching their duty of care. In other words, drivers owe a duty of care to everyone else on the road to avoid acting in a way that might cause them injury, and a reasonable driver would not have run a red light because doing so endangers other drivers. A driver who runs a red light has therefore breached their duty of care to other drivers.
The duty of care applies to people as well as to businesses. So, if a customer slips and falls at a grocery store because the store was negligent in failing to wipe up a puddle on the floor, the store can be held liable for failing to meet the duty of care it owes to customers.
Special Relationships That Give Rise to a Duty of Care
While each person owes a general duty of care not to behave in a way that places others in danger, some special relationships impose a higher duty of care. Common carriers, such as bus drivers and airplane pilots, owe a high duty of care to passengers because passengers have entrusted the carrier to them to transport them safely. Therefore, a bus company may be held liable for a passenger’s injuries even if it was only slightly at fault.
The law also imposes a heightened duty of care on many professionals. For example, doctors owe a heightened duty of care to their patients and lawyers and accountants owe a heightened duty of care to their clients. Not only must a doctor or lawyer act as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances, but they also must act with the level of skill and competence that a reasonable doctor or lawyer would in the same circumstances.
Some other examples of special relationships that give rise to a heightened duty of care include landlords to tenants, hotels to guests, adults to children, and mortuaries to clients.
Breach of the Duty of Care
In order for a defendant to be held liable for breach of the duty of care in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove both that the defendant breached the duty of care and that their breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff can usually show that the defendant breached the duty of care by behaving negligently and doing something that a reasonable person would not do under the circumstances or omitting to do something that a reasonable person would do under the circumstances. For instance, in the example above, the first driver behaved negligently because a reasonable driver would not run a red light. To prove that the defendant’s breach was the cause of their injury, the plaintiff will have to show that they would not have been injured had the defendant not behaved unreasonable. In the example above, the plaintiff would not have been injured had the defendant not run a red light and hit their car.