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How the Duty of Care Impacts Your Injury Case

Tue 28 Feb, 2023 / by / Personal Injury

When someone injures another person–particularly in some sorts of cases–anger can arise. That anger comes from the idea that the person simply did not care enough about the injured person to avoid harming them. While there is certainly a moral obligation to care about others, there also is a moral obligation to care in certain cases. This legal obligation is referred to as the “duty of care.” Read on to understand what this duty is and how it affects personal injury cases.

What is The Duty of Care?

Personal injury cases originate out of a negligence claim. Showing that one party has been negligent means first showing that this person had a duty of care.

The legal duty of care is a level of personal responsibility one must have towards other individuals. When we engage in an activity, whatever that is, we can, in a sense, act how we want. But we cannot act without considering how our actions may impact others. For instance, you may want to drive without paying much attention when you are in a school zone. However, you have a responsibility to look out for kids who may dart out into the street and buses that may be stopped. 

If you harm someone, even unintentionally, you can be on the hook legally. If you intentionally or actively try to harm someone, you can also be held liable.

When Does the Duty Exist?

A duty of care exists when there is a relationship between two parties recognized by law and, as a result of the relationship, there is a legal obligation from one party to another. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. A driver has a duty of care towards other motorists and pedestrians. They must yield to pedestrians, not follow other vehicles too closely, and observe the rules of the road.
  2. A doctor has a duty of care toward a patient. He must do no harm. He must advise the patient and diagnose and treat the patient to the best of his abilities.
  3. A business owner has a duty of care towards customers who are on their premises. They must make sure that the entrance is free from ice. They must also ensure that there are no trip hazards in the store such as produce on the floor.

When Does the Duty Not Exist?

The duty does not exist when there is no legal relationship or relevant connection between the wrongdoer and the victim. One example would be if someone is injured by a product. Suppose they bought the product from a big box store. If the person is injured, they could go after the seller or manufacturer for injuries. Product liability law requires there be a business relationship between seller and buyer. If the person did not buy the product directly, they may be unable to recover or have to go through additional steps to recover financially. Another example would be when someone’s actions would not foreseeably harm another person. If harm is so unforeseeable, then even if a person is harmed, they may be unable to recover. For instance, if a merchant sells pickles and a person has a severe fear of pickles and suffers cardiac arrest, they would likely not be able to recover financially for damages from the merchant. Yet another example is if someone is trespassing in your home and they trip over your shoes and become injured. The trespasser would be unable to turn around and sue you for their medical bills.

What is Reasonable Care?

A person must exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to another person. That is, they must not act unreasonably so as to cause harm. 

When deciding what constitutes reasonable care, a jury decides what a “reasonable person” would have done under the circumstances. A reasonable person standard requires the jury to think about what an ordinary human being would do. In other words, the jury must decide what a reasonable person in the particular circumstances of the case would do–not a superhuman person. 

What is a Breach of the Duty of Care?

A breach of care happens when a person has a duty of care and then behaves in a way that does not rise to that level. Different situations–and different relationships between people–will require different levels of care. Thus, a breach may happen in one situation and not in another. 

Here are some examples of a breach of duty:

  1. A motorist paints her nails while driving and then causes an accident.
  2. A doctor operates on a patient while under the influence of drugs and causes death.
  3. A store owner knows that its stairs are uneven and a person becomes injured on them.

Is it Possible to Breach a Duty Too and Still Recover?

It is possible. In Illinois, modified comparative fault is the standard. An injured victim can collect damages as long as she is not more at fault than the defendant. This is also referred to as the “51 percent rule,” which means that plaintiffs cannot recover if they are 51 percent or more responsible. Any damages collected by the victim will be reduced by the victim’s percentage of liability.

Can I Bring Legal Action for Breach of a Duty of Care?

Yes, you can. An experienced personal injury attorney will review your case, gather all of the evidence, and present a legal argument to help you secure financial compensation. When someone violates their duty of care to act reasonably, and they are the proximate cause of your injuries, they will have a legal obligation to pay for your damages. However, you have to prove all of the elements. 

There are four elements:

  1. The party owed you a duty of care.
  2. They breached their duty.
  3. The breach of duty caused your harm.
  4. As a result of the harm, you suffered damages.

Speak to an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Proving negligence can be complicated. An experienced personal injury attorney will walk you through the steps of a personal injury lawsuit.