What is a Duty of Care in a Personal Injury Claim?
Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on Jan 26, 2022 in Personal Injury
Duty of care is a phrase you may have heard from lawyers or read online. However, few people fully understand its role in a personal injury claim until they have an accident themselves.
What is a duty of care? What are some examples of a duty of care? What does it mean for a duty of care to get breached? How do attorneys prove this in an injury claim?
These are important questions that Goldberg Finnegan discusses below. Our Silver Spring personal injury lawyers have in-depth knowledge of duty of care and proving when it has been breached. We also have a strong record of recovering settlements and winning jury verdicts. To date, we have recovered more than $130 million for our clients.
Find out if you may have a case and how we are ready to fight to recover full compensation on your behalf. There is no cost or legal obligation for this meeting, which means no risk to you.
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What is a Duty of Care?
A duty of care is something that exists whether you know the other person or not. This duty is the legal obligation others have to prevent causing harm to themselves or anyone else. A person or entity that fails to uphold this duty can be held financially responsible if any damages result.
Proving another party owed you a duty of care is a critical part of any personal injury claim. If there was no duty of care, there is no case. That said, a duty of care is just the first of four elements in a legal claim. The plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit) or his or her attorney must be able to prove all four of these elements:
- The defendant (at-fault party being sued) owed a duty of care to the victim
- The defendant breached the duty owed to the victim by his or her actions or inactions
- That violation of duty directly caused the accident and subsequent injuries
- The injured victim sustained tangible damages – such as medical costs and lost wages
Proving negligence is challenging for those not familiar with the law or the legal process of seeking compensation. Insurance companies often take advantage of an injured victim’s vulnerability and having less knowledge of their legal rights.
Injured victims can greatly benefit from having an attorney on their side because:
- An attorney is not going to take a case if they do not think they can win it
- Attorneys handle personal injury cases every day, and therefore have a lot of experience
- Insurers know if an injury victim has an attorney, he or she likely has a stronger case
- A good injury attorney not only has extensive experience, but is also prepared to go to trial
- When injured victims have legal help, they can avoid making mistakes that can hurt their claim
What Are Examples of People or Entities Who Owe a Duty of Care?
There are many different kinds of personal injury claims. Regardless of the type of incident, the other party must have owed the victim a duty of care.
- Doctors owe their patients a duty to provide reasonable care that meets acceptable standards. This could be measured by how another doctor with comparable training and background would handle treatment in similar circumstances.
- Business owners are required to maintain safe premises for customers who visit their property. For instance, cleaning up spills to prevent slip and falls.
- Drivers, too, must follow all traffic laws and operate their vehicles in a way that does not cause harm to themselves or others.
- Private and commercial landowners owe a duty to maintain safe premises for invitees. This includes fixing hazards that could harm visitors – or at least giving warning about any hazards until they are fixed.
- Transportation companies owe their passengers a duty of care. If the company is a common carrier, such as public buses or trains, there is a greater duty of care.
- Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities owe a duty to residents under their care.
What Does it Mean to Breach a Duty of Care?
Talking about a duty of care is one thing, but in real life, how does that play out? What could a person or company do to be liable for your injuries?
The fact is, there are numerous ways a duty of care can be breached, too many to name them all. If you are unsure if you have a claim, it is best to seek legal help to get more information.
That said, some common examples we may see include:
When Drivers Get Behind the Wheel
Drivers are duty-bound to follow traffic laws and operate their vehicles in a safe manner. However, accidents still happen every day, even though most car crashes are completely preventable.
Driver behavior that breaches a duty of care and can lead to serious crashes includes:
- Failing to use a turn signal to alert other drivers of the intention to change lanes or turn
- Slamming on brakes out of annoyance – called a brake check – because another driver was following too close
- Following another vehicle too closely, which gives no time to stop or avoid a crash
- Running a red light and causing a crash with another vehicle that had the right of way
- Failing to yield the right of way in any situation
- Being distracted by a cellphone or other things that take a driver’s focus off the road
- Impaired driving, such as being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or other substances
- Drowsy driving, which can be as dangerous as other types of impairment
- Even poor vehicle maintenance can result in a breach of duty of care
Property Owners Failing to Maintain Safe Premises
Private and commercial property owners are also responsible for maintaining safe premises. When invitees and other guests enter the property, they should be made well aware of any existing hazards. This could be provided with a verbal warning, properly posted signage, or both.
Property owners may be liable for damages an invitee suffers on their property if they:
- Knew or should have known of a dangerous hazard – such as uneven floorboards or an unlit parking area
- Neither repaired the hazard nor made any reasonable effort to warn invitees about the dangers
- Did not repair or otherwise resolve, in a reasonable timeframe, a hazard they knew about
Liable parties in a premises liability claim could include landlords, homeowners, local government entities, the owner of a restaurant, store or other place of business.
Doctors Failing to Provide Reasonable Care to a Patient
Patients rely on their treating physicians to provide proper care. When doctors cause their patients harm due to negligence, they can be held liable for the damages.
Some examples include:
- Disregarding a patient’s medical history – or not properly taking it
- Administering the wrong medication or dosage
- Prematurely discharging a patient
- Failure to diagnose a patient or misdiagnosing a patient
- Substandard care – or a total lack of follow-up after surgery, illness or other treatment
- Failure to recognize specific symptoms of an illness or condition
- Failure to order testing that could help determine a patient’s diagnosis
In medical care, doctor’s and other healthcare professionals have a higher level of responsibility and owe a greater duty.
How is a Duty of Care Proved in a Legal Case?
Knowing that another party violated the duty of care he or she owed you is not enough. Legally, you have to be able to prove it. Proof requires evidence, which an attorney can help you to gather, such as:
- Photos and/or videos of the accident scene, your injuries and/or property damages
- Surveillance videos – such as a traffic cam, dash cam or security cameras – that support your claim
- Testimony about events leading up to your injury from a credible witness
- Medical records to help link your injuries to the accident
- Maintenance records or other documentation that show a property manager was aware of a hazard
- Incident or police reports documenting the accident or crash scene
- Documentation that reveals a hazard was known about but ignored
In more complex personal injury cases, an attorney may even bring in an expert witness to testify on your behalf.
Was the Incident and Potential Harm Foreseeable?
In addition to establishing a breach of duty, the attorney must also show that foreseeability existed. This means, defendants should reasonably have been able to see the potential harm their actions could cause others. For instance, say a store owner knew or should have known about a spill. It is reasonable to foresee how someone may not see the spill and could suffer a slip and fall.
Our Firm is Ready to Provide the Legal Help You Need
When you suffer an injury caused by another person’s negligence, it is important to seek legal help as soon as possible. Trying to handle these claims on your own could leave you with little to show for it at the end of your case. Insurance companies are bound to take advantage of you having no legal representation.
At Goldberg Finnegan, we are ready to protect your rights and fight for the compensation you need from day one. Set up a free initial consultation with one of our qualified attorneys today. This meeting is a zero-cost, no-obligation opportunity to learn about your legal options. If you have a case and want to use our firm, you can do so without paying any upfront costs. We work hard to level the legal playing field and are ready to fight for maximum compensation on your behalf.
Millions Recovered for Our Clients. (888) 213-8140