If you have been involved in a personal injury case, you probably have come across the words “duty of care” and “negligence.” These terms are the cornerstone of nearly every lawsuit that causes injury to someone involved.
Here we are going to discuss and examine the legal theory underlying this terminology.
What is the Duty of Care?
No matter where you are, everyone in the United States has a legal obligation to act reasonably as to avoid injuring others. When people do not live up to this legal duty, they could be held liable for any injury they cause to others.
For instance, let’s use a car crash as an example. If Driver A’s car hits Driver B’s car, after Driver A just ran through a stop sign, Driver B is able to file suit against Drive A for their resulting injuries. This is true even though Driver A did not intentionally cause harm to Driver B. Driver A will still be responsible for harm caused to Driver B because Driver A owed a duty of care to act as a reasonable and safe driver. A reasonable driver would not drive through a stop sign because this is inherently dangerous to other motorists. So, we can safely say that Driver A breached their duty of care. These types of breaches on part of other drivers are fairly common, so much that Utah requires that all drivers carry liability insurance — or proof of financial responsibility — to cover these types of incidents.
The duty to act reasonably is the normal duty of care applicable in a majority of situations, but in some situations, the law imposes other duties of care as well. For instance, common carriers — such as bus drivers, train operators, and airplane pilots — owe a significantly high duty of care to passengers. Because of this, a bus company — as a common carrier — may be held responsible for harm to passengers when the bus company was only somewhat liable for these injuries.
The law also requires a higher duty of care in certain professions, including doctors and lawyers. A physician has to act as a reasonable person would under given circumstances while also exhibiting the knowledge and professionalism that a reasonable doctor would also exhibit under the same conditions. Because of this, even slight mistakes or miscalculations can result in a doctor being involved in a lawsuit.
Children also may have their own duty of care. A child cannot under usual circumstances be expected to act as a reasonable adult would, so the law mandates that children act as a reasonable child of the same age, experience, and education would under similar circumstances.
Duty of care also comes into play with businesses. A business is required to act as a reasonable business would under similar conditions. Take a coffee shop, for instance. The shop fails to place a mat near the doorway on a rainy morning. Water then gathers, resulting in a customer who slips and falls because of the slippery floor conditions. The coffee shop failed to fulfill its duty of care to act as a reasonable business would in order to avoid customers sustaining these types of injuries. Because of this, the customer would likely be eligible to recover lost compensation in a personal injury claim against the business.
Breach of Duty
Someone can file suit against another person if they violate a duty of care due to the defendant’s negligence. In order to have a successful claim of negligence, a plaintiff is required to prove the following four elements:
- Duty of care;
- Breach of the duty
- Damages; and
So, negligence is a legal term that essentially means a breach of duty by the at-fault party. The “duty of care” discussed above is one of the four elements that the plaintiff is required to prove in order to win a suit involving a claim of negligence.
The other three elements are fairly easy to understand. Once the duty of care on part of the defendant has been proven, the plaintiff has to show that the defendant failed to live up to this duty of care — ie. he or she “breached” this duty — and that the plaintiff sustained harm — or damages — that were directly caused by the defendant’s breach of duty.
How a Breach of Duty Is Used in a Personal Injury Case
Let’s take a look at another example. John rides a bus to work each day. One day, Tom, the bus driver, fails to pay attention while driving the bus and runs a red light, striking another vehicle. John breaks his leg in the crash.
John could decide to file suit against the bus company for his broken leg, filing a negligence lawsuit.
John would have to first prove that Tom had a duty of care to him. Because tom was operating the bus, he was acting as the common carrier. It has been established that common carriers have a duty to act with a professional level of care to ensure the safety of passengers.
Then, Tom would have to establish that Tom breached this duty of care. Tom ran a red light and hit a vehicle to lack of attention while driving the bus. This would amount to a breach of duty.
John would then have to show that he was injured in the accident. He broke his leg, which qualifies as damages.
Lastly, John would have to provide evidence that Tom’s breach resulted in his injuries. John would not have been harmed if Tom had not been negligent. No other acts contributed to John’s sustained injuries, so we could say Tom’s breach resulted in harm.
Negligent Car Accidents in Utah
Reckless actions account for many car crashes in Utah. These could include texting and driving, being intoxicated, or just not paying attention behind the wheel.
At Siegfried & Jensen, our team of Utah car crash attorneys has 30 years of experience bringing reckless drivers to justice after harming someone else on the road. If you or a loved one has been injured, call us at (801) 845-9000 to see how we can help.