What is a Duty of Care?


Establishing a duty of care is essential in proving negligence in a personal injury case. Beyond that, an attorney must demonstrate that an individual or business breached their duty by performing an action that resulted in reasonably foreseeable harm to others. Below are common example questions clients may have concerning how to prove duty of care relates to their case.

What is a Duty of Care Under the Law?

A duty of care requires that an individual adheres to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could forseeably harm others. This includes practicing the same watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person would practice in similar circumstances.

When an individual’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent and the individual may be liable for any damages resulting from said actions.

A common example in which a duty of care is owed is when an individual is operating a motor vehicle. As a motorist, an individual owes a duty of care not only to other drivers, but to all other road users. This requirement can be traced back as far as 1832 when Boss v Litton determined that “all persons, paralytic as well as others, have a right to walk on the road and are entitled to the reasonable care on the part of persons driving carriages upon it.”

When Does a Business Owe a Duty of Care?

Individuals are not the only ones who can owe a duty of care. The law requires that the same standard be applied to business and organizations when certain relationships are established. Some examples of business duty of care include:

  • Property Owners – Business owners have a duty of care to those who come onto their property; however, the length at which a property owner must go to protect visitors generally depends on the visitor’s status. For example, a trespasser will receive little or no care while customers are generally provided a high level of care.
  • Manufacturers – A company that makes a product generally has a duty of care to the consumers who buy and use it. This includes ensuring that the product is reasonably safe and properly warning consumers about and dangers the product may pose.
  • Commercial Trucking Companies Commercial vehicle companies have a duty of care to their drivers and to all other persons on the road. Included in this duty of care is the duty maintain their vehicles’ vital parts in proper working order, including brakes, tires, steering mechanisms, and emergency equipment.

What Constitutes a Breach of Duty?

When considering whether a defendant has breached his or her duty of care toward a plaintiff, courts will often ask the following:

  • Did the defendant owe a duty of care to the plaintiff? If so, was it a general duty of care or was the duty of care based on a special relationship such as professional liability, medical liability, or premises liability?
  • Did the defendant fail to provide the same amount of care that a reasonable person would have provided in a similar position.
  • Did the defendant foresee the risk of harm to the plaintiff? If not, should the defendant reasonably have foreseen the risk of harm?
  • Were there alternatives available that may have prevented the harm of the plaintiff?
  • Was the burden of using a safer alternative significantly higher than the risk involved in not using it?

While no single question can prove a breach of duty happened, courts can consider all of these questions together to determine if, when applied to the specific facts of a case, they suggest a breach of duty occurred. If you believe you or someone you know may be the victim of a breach of duty of care, look to Thomas J. Henry Law for expert advice in how to prove negligence. Our expert attorneys are here 24/7 to help you establish a firm case for success, no matter the difficulty. Contact us today for a free case review.

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