Duty and Breach of Duty
At the cornerstone of every negligence case is the concept of reasonable care. When an individual does not exercise reasonable care to prevent injury or harm to another person, that individual has violated what the law recognizes as the duty of care.
What the Defendant Owes the Plaintiff
Duty of care is a standard of conduct that ought to exist between two parties. The relationship between the parties dictates the amount of reasonable care that ought to be recognized in a given situation. In a case involving a motor vehicle accident, for example, the plaintiff and the defendant may be strangers. However, the say the defendant ran a red light, which caused a collision that resulted in the injury of the defendant. In this case, the defendant did not exercise reasonable care because he did not abide by the rules of the road.
If a relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant at the time of the accident or incident that resulted in an injury, it may be possible to prove that the defendant owed a special duty to the plaintiff. In a medical malpractice suit, for example, the defendant owed a special duty of care to her or her patient, the plaintiff.
Cases involving fiduciary or business relationships or premises liability will likely involve special duty of care.
In a personal injury or negligence case, the judge will decide if the defendant had a duty to act with reasonable care toward the plaintiff, based on the circumstances of the case and any existing relationship.
Breach of Duty
Once the judge has established that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, it will be up to the jury to determine if the defendant violated or breached that duty because of his or her conduct. If the defendant did not exercise reasonable care—as determined by the judge in regard to the circumstances of the case—and his or her actions resulted in an injury or loss for the plaintiff, the plaintiff has not fulfilled his or her duty to the plaintiff and may be liable for negligence as a result of that breach.