Breach of duty is a broad legal term that applies when a person’s conduct fails to meet an applicable standard of care. The question of whether or not a person is liable for injuries caused to another may turn on whether that person has breached the duty of care owed to the injured person.
When a defendant’s conduct fails to meet the required standard of care applicable to the facts and circumstances of the case at issue, then that defendant is said to have breached their duty.
Duty of Care
In order to determine whether a party has breached their duty, one must first establish whether a duty of care existed given the circumstances. Duty of care is the first element a plaintiff must establish during a claim of negligence, and it may be broad or narrow depending on the parties involved in the controversy, the relationship between the parties, and other factors.
In most circumstances, people owe a duty of care to others in terms of acting reasonably and not causing harm. For example, drivers on the road owe a duty of care to other drivers in terms of driving safely and obeying the rules of the road. This duty of care could come up during a car accident case.
Professional Duty of Care
Negligence claims may be brought against professionals such as lawyers, trustees, or accountants, which requires adherence to a standard beyond that expected of two individuals in the general public.
In professional negligence claims, the duty of care is determined to be the standard of care commonly held by people in the same profession. This standard requires that a professional exercise the skill, care, and diligence that may be reasonably expected of a person of ordinary competence engaged in that profession at the time of the negligent act. While this is a more stringent standard, professional negligence still refers to a non-willful act or omission.
For example, a doctor would be held to a professional (higher) standard of care than the average person while completing a medical procedure. However, that same doctor would not be held to a higher standard of care if they assisted you with a mechanical issue on the side of the road. The higher duty of care only applies to the person in their professional capacity.
Determining a Breach of Duty
Breach of duty is usually established by evaluating how a reasonable person would act given the circumstances and then comparing the person in question’s actions to that fictional reasonable person.
For example, running a red light would likely constitute a breach of duty. As mentioned above, drivers owe a duty of care by way of driving safely and obeying traffic laws. A reasonable person would not run a red light absent some sort of extenuating circumstance. Absent such a factor, the breach of duty element would likely be met in this instance.
Winning a Negligence Claim
In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must show all four of the following elements:
- Duty of Care. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff under the circumstances.
- Breach of Duty. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached the duty of care owed by failing to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have used in like circumstances. In other words, did the defendant fail to meet the duty of care or the required level of conduct?
- Causation. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s actions directly and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury.
- Damages. The plaintiff must prove that they suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s actions. Damages may include non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, or economic losses, such as lost wages.
Even if a plaintiff is able to prove that the defendant breached their duty, they must also be able to demonstrate to a jury that (1) the defendant’s acts or omissions directly and proximately caused (2) injury or damage to the plaintiff in order to win their negligence claim. If a plaintiff is unable to prove any one of the elements, they will not be able to win their claim.
A Personal Injury Attorney Can Assist With Your Claim
Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Attorneys are experts when it comes to proving a breach of duty and the rest of the elements of a negligence claim. Most personal injury attorneys also offer a free initial consultation to review your case, so it won’t hurt to reach out; call us at (727) 933-0015 and get in touch with our St. Petersburg law office.