Duty can be any legal obligation that requires a person to follow a certain standard of conduct. In personal injury cases, duty or “duty of care” usually means an obligation to exercise care so as not to harm other people.
“Duty” can be used many ways in the law, from the duty we all have to follow the law, to the “duties” or taxes paid on goods from overseas, to the duty that trustees have to corporations or other contractual arrangements. But perhaps the most common way duty is used refers to the duty we all have to take care not to hurt others.
When driving for example, every motorist has an obligation to be careful of those around them, by watching the road, following traffic laws, and slowing if they see a person in the street, whether it’s a crosswalk or not. If a person doesn’t show such care while driving — perhaps by not looking at the road, or by not turning on lights at night — they have broken their “duty of care” toward other human beings. Their careless actions are putting others at risk, and that is the definition of violating duty of care.
Violating duty of care by simply being careless is called negligence. Violating it intentionally, and/or behaving in a way that is clearly extremely dangerous, is called recklessness or gross negligence. Either way, people (or businesses) who violate their duty of care are legally liable for the damages if anyone is hurt.
What Are Examples of Duty of Care?
Some examples of duty are fairly obvious. For example; a driver who aggressively passes a bicyclist without enough space to do so is obviously violating their duty of care — even if the cyclist was an inconvenience. If the cyclist gets injured, they could have a valid bicycle accident case against the driver.
Other examples are less obvious. Imagine, for example, that you take your children to a water park. The water park has a huge fake mountain, with a giant waterfall gushing down it. Robotic animals cling to the mountain and move their wings, faces or arms.
The waterfall is clearly meant to be a display, not something to climb on. But imagine that the safety railings around the waterfall are only 3 feet high — low enough for many kids to climb over. Arguably, the water park isn’t upholding its duty of care. Sure, they may have put railings around the display, but everyone knows kids can be rambunctious and adventurous; kids don’t always realize how dangerous something is. If the railings aren’t enough to stop a normal kid, they really didn’t live up to the basic duty to make the park safe.
If a child was injured, a premise liability lawyer would likely view the park as at least partially responsible for what happened — not just the child or parents.
What Happens if Someone Breaks Their Legal Duty of Care?
If it caused any kind of damages — such as death, property damages or injury — then the victim(s) have a strong case against the person who was careless. If they can prove that the responsible party was not exercising proper duty of care, that party is likely to be held liable for all the costs and damages. In other words, the careless party will have to pay the injured party.
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