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Determining Duty of Care and Negligence

Determining Duty of Care and Negligence

Under tort law, negligence is a cause of action that may qualify for compensation in situations where another party’s carelessness contributed either to injury to your person or damage to your property. One of the most important considerations in identifying negligence is determining what duty of care was owed to you by the other party.

What Is Negligence?

Imagine you’re forced to come to a sudden stop while driving a car and the person who’s been tailgating you for the last five miles rams right into your rear bumper. Is that negligence on the part of the person who hit your car? It’s quite possible that a Philadelphia accident lawyer from Metzger & Kleiner could make a strong case that negligence was indeed involved in this accident.

Now, suppose that your brake lights have been broken for the past three months and, despite a mechanical violation citation, you still haven’t gotten around to fixing them. The car behind you is driving at a safe distance from your vehicle, but when you come to a sudden stop, it still careens into you because the driver did not see the red lights that would have indicated you’d stepped on your brakes. Is that negligence? Your personal injury lawyer may still be able to make a case for negligence, but the circumstances surrounding this situation are a lot more complex.

Proving that a careless act or omission contributed to your damages is not always a straightforward exercise. A finding of negligence rests on demonstrating the existence of these five elements:

  • A duty of care owed to the plaintiff by the defendant
  • A violation of this duty through either action or inaction
  • A causal connection between that violation and the resulting damages
  • The fact that the defendant should have foreseen these consequences
  • The conclusion that the defendant’s violation caused the plaintiff harm

The term “duty of care” may initially seem confusing because it typically describes the accountability present when two parties are involved in a relationship. The two drivers described above are strangers to one another, so how can they be involved in this way? The answer is that the social contract itself provides the context of their relationship.

The “Reasonable Person” Standard

Tort law often invokes a test for proving negligence: In the same situation, would a reasonable person behave in the same way the defendant did? In other words, would an ordinary person with average skills who is exercising good judgment make the same decisions the defendant made in a similar set of circumstances?

To some degree, this “reasonable person” is an artificial construct. In real life, people often demonstrate lapses in good judgment and are frequently heedless of the consequences of their momentary lack of attention. The reasonable person construct, however, provides an objective standard for establishing the duty of care.

When Does Duty of Care Apply?

Duty of care applies in all situations that engender personal injury lawsuits. In fact, the concept of duty of care may be the unifying factor in sets of circumstances as diverse as automobile accidents, malpractice suits, premise liability and defamation, all of which can be litigated as torts under the general umbrella of personal injury.

Automobile accidents: In an automobile accident, duty of care may mean that a driver must obey traffic laws as well as any unwritten, common-sense rules of the road.

Malpractice: In a malpractice situation, duty of care describes the competent medical treatment that a patient is entitled to receive from a health care provider.

Premise liability: When a property owner does not keep his or her property reasonably free of hazards that might injure people who make lawful use of the premises, that owner may be held legally liable for any damages that befall those people due to that breach of responsibility.

Defamation: False statements can injure a person’s reputation. Establishing a duty of care in cases where defamation is alleged often hinges on the reasonable expectation of a right to privacy.

As you can see, determining what duty of care is owed in a prospective personal injury case can be quite complex. Consulting with an experienced Philadelphia accident lawyer from Metzger & Kleiner could help you decide whether you ought to move forward with your legal claim and how to proceed. Call us today at (215) 567-6616 in Philadelphia or (610) 435-7400 in Lehigh Valley. We’ll gladly arrange a consultation.

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