Breach of Duty

The failure to act with ordinary care under the circumstances is a breach of duty.

This is one of the four elements of negligence, which are:

  • A duty of care is owed
  • There is a breach of that duty of care
  • The breach causes injury
  • That injury results in damages

You’ll generally need to show each of these four elements to succeed in a personal injury case. The standard of care may vary depending on the type of injury and who caused your injuries.

Breach of Duty in Negligence Cases

California law states that each person is responsible for acting with ordinary skill or care in the management of his or her property or person. When a person fails to meet this standard, they have breached their duty of ordinary care. 

In more practical terms, it just means that everyone has to act reasonably under the circumstances. For example, what might be considered reasonable driving on a rural road on a sunny day might be different that what’s considered reasonable in a downpour in heavy traffic.

There are several examples of how a breach of duty can occur:

  • A driver fails to pay attention to the road because he is looking at a text message. He doesn’t notice the vehicle in front of him is slowing and he hits the vehicle in a rear-end collision. This driver failed to use ordinary care by looking away from the road while driving and colliding with another vehicle.
  • A store employee doesn’t immediately clean up or put up a warning sign after noticing that a customer has spilled some water on the floor. Another customer has a slip and fall accident due to the spill. The employee failed to use ordinary care. The store owner may be responsible for their employee’s actions.
  • A homeowner fails to warn a dinner guest of a loose step on the front porch. The guest is injured due to the homeowner’s failure to meet the standard of ordinary care.

In any of these situations, the injured person may be able to seek compensation for their losses under a negligence theory. A jury would evaluate all of the available evidence to decide whether the standard of care was breached.

Professional Breach of Duty

Professionals–such as doctors–are held to a higher standard when practicing their profession. Under the professional standard of care, they are expected to use the level of skill, knowledge, and care of another reasonably careful doctor in their specialty. They breach their duty when they fail to meet the professional standard of care.

We expect doctors to know how to diagnose and treat medical conditions in their relevant specialty. Medical malpractice cases will generally require expert testimony from another doctor who establishes how a reasonably careful doctor should have acted under the circumstances. If a doctor uses a treatment that is experimental or not generally used in the medical community, they may have breached their duty as a medical professional.

Do All Personal Injury Cases Require You to Prove Breach of Duty?

No—some personal injury cases do not require a plaintiff to show a breach of duty. In some cases, a strict liability theory is used to show that the defendant should be responsible for any injuries that occur even if they exercised ordinary care.

Product liability cases often use the strict liability standard. Manufacturers, distributors, or retailers of defective products have a duty to make these products safe for consumers. Even if the manufacturer shows that they took all reasonable precautions, they may still be found liable for injuries caused by their products.

California dog bite injuries also use strict liability. A dog’s owner can be held responsible for injuries even if he or she acted with ordinary care. Furthermore, there is no requirement that the dog owner had to be aware of the dog’s propensity for biting people.

Breach of Duty in Workplace Accidents

If you are injured on the job, you generally must use the workers’ compensation system to seek compensation for your injuries. This is a no-fault system, so you won’t need to show that your employer breached their duty to make the workplace safe. You also won’t be barred from seeking compensation if you were responsible for your injuries (in most cases).

In some cases, you might be able to file a third party personal injury lawsuit for a work-related injury. For example, if you were injured by a negligent (non-employee) driver while you were working, you might be able to sue that driver for damages. In that case, you would proceed under ordinary negligence laws. You would need to show that the third-party breached their duty of care when they caused your injuries.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Case Evaluation

Breach of duty is a question of fact that is determined by a jury. All of the facts and circumstances of your case must be evaluated to determine whether another person breached their duty of care. Contact a personal injury lawyer at (619) 777-5555 to discuss whether a duty was breached in your personal injury case.