One very important legal concept in personal injury cases is that of the “duty of care.”
Understanding what the duty of care is and how it is established in a personal injury lawsuit can be very helpful because it can aid you in understanding liability issues.
What you need to know is that in order to win your personal injury lawsuit, you must be able to establish, among other things, that the defendant owed you a duty of care.
What does this mean, and how does it work in a typical personal injury case?
Understanding Duty of Care in Personal Injury Cases
To win your personal injury lawsuit, you must establish that the defendant was negligent. In other words, that he failed to act as a reasonable man would have acted. And to prove that, you must prove that:
- the defendant owed you a duty of care
- that he breached that duty,
- that defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of your injuries,
- that you were damaged.
Boiled down, the four essential elements of a cause of action for negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages.
Duty of care is critical to your action. Without it, you simply do not have a case. You might be injured, and your injury may have been proximately caused by a defendant’s action or inaction, but unless the defendant owed you a duty of care, he will not be liable.
For example, let’s say you are drowning in a pond, and a complete stranger, who had nothing to do with the situation, walks by. He sees you drowning but does nothing to help you. Is he liable for your death? No. Why? Because he had no duty to save you.
Contrast this situation to that of a lifeguard on duty at a pool. If a lifeguard sees someone drowning in the pool and he does nothing to save them, he will be liable because a lifeguard has a duty of care to all those swimming in the pool.
While this may make the duty of care concept seem simple, it is not. Duty of care is a very complex concept.
As a general rule, everyone owes a duty of care to others to act in a reasonably safe way so as not to harm others. For example, all drivers on the road owe other drivers a duty of care to obey the laws and drive safely.
But whether a duty of care was owed in any particular personal injury case is not easy to know. That is why it is always best to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney.
A Question of Law
Whether a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care is a question of law. In litigation, judges, not juries, decide all questions of law. Thus, it is for the presiding judge to decide whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
How will the judge decide?
Much depends on the facts of the case and your state’s laws on duty of care.
Many factors go into determining whether an individual owes a duty of care, including the individual’s relationship to the injured plaintiff, his or her age, and, in some cases, his or her profession. So, for example, a doctor owes a different duty of care to his patients than to non-patients. Likewise, fiduciaries owe a higher duty of care than non-fiduciaries. Property owners owe a duty of care to keep their property in a safe condition for those who enter on it, but the level of care that must be exercised changes with the status of the person coming onto the property.
As you can see, duty of care is a broad concept that can be very complicated.
Establishing Duty of Care in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
How you establish a duty of care in your personal injury case will depend on the facts of your case and the law in your state.
As in any personal injury lawsuit, you prove your case with evidence. To prove a duty of care, you will need to produce evidence establishing that the defendant owed you a duty of care. That may be done with:
- Witness testimony
- Expert witness testimony
Working closely with your personal injury attorney, you will develop the evidence that supports your case.
Proving a duty of care is the first step in proceeding with your personal injury lawsuit.
Handling Personal Injury Lawsuits Throughout Florida
Our team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to helping those who are injured through the negligence of another. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact us or call the firm at 777-JOHN. Our main office is in Orange Park, but we serve clients throughout Florida. In addition, we have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.