The phrase "duty of care" refers to the legal expectation that a certain standard of care should be upheld when someone is participating in anything that could potentially do harm to others around them. This concept can be applied to just about any scenario you can think of. For example, the company that employs you upholds their duty of care when they provide you with personal protective equipment. Public transportation operators do so by obeying traffic laws and properly maintaining the vehicles that carry their passengers.
One of the first things we ask ourselves in a personal injury lawsuit is whether or not the other party actually owed a duty of care, and the answer can be heavily dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the incident. To give you a better idea of how this works, consider the common "grocery store slip-and-fall" scenario. If you slip and fall due to a spill that was ignored, you can reasonably argue that the grocery store staff failed to uphold their responsibility to provide a safe environment for their shoppers. However, if your fall occurs in a restricted area (such as an employee break room, for instance), the store personnel would have had no way of knowing that you would be there. They did not have a responsibility to keep shoppers safe in an area that was clearly marked as restricted for employee use only. It simply wouldn't be reasonable to hold them accountable for that incident.
How Do I Know If Duty of Care Exists?
In many cases, duty of care is simply an implied characteristic of a given role or situation. You don't discuss your safety with your city bus driver every time you step foot on the bus, but it's implied that he or she will act reasonably behind the wheel in an effort to keep passengers safe. These implicit responsibilities have, over time, become part of our common law through various incidents that have happened throughout history.
In other instances, however, duty of care may be formally included in some type of written agreement between the parties. A lease is a great example of this. Your obligations as a renter are often clearly defined (pay your rent, keep the property in good condition, etc.), and your landlord's responsibilities to provide a clean and safe structure for you to live in should also be plainly stated. Nursing home contracts are another instance where duty of care is often clearly outlined.
What Does it Mean if the Duty of Care has Been Breached?
If the other party has failed to uphold their duty of care, they are guilty of negligence. There is almost never a need to prove duty of care in order to establish negligence, but rather, you simply need to make a reasonable argument for why a duty of care was owed in the first place.
How Does Duty of Care Apply to Automobile Accidents?
As we mentioned previously, duty of care is implied with many of the activities in our daily life, and that applies especially to driving. Drivers have a responsibility to behave in a way that preserves the safety of others on the road, including other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and road workers. Silly road stunts, running red lights, speeding, and texting while driving all seem like such small infractions. However, if a collision is caused by any of these careless behaviors, you will likely be charged with negligent driving.
Duty of care is a universal concept that applies to everything from driving to nursing homes. If you have been injured physically, emotionally, or financially as a result of someone else's negligence in any capacity, the first thing you should do is speak with an attorney about your options. Contact the skilled and proven team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC at (601) 948-1600 for a free initial consultation.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.