Breach of Duty

There’s been an accident, it wasn’t your fault, and you have suffered an injury. How do you get the compensation you need to move forward with your life?

A breach of duty is one of the four elements you must show to prove negligence in a personal injury case. The first element one must prove is that the party alleged to be negligent (the defendant) owed a duty of care to the party that suffered an injury (the plaintiff). 

The duty of care generally means that one party needs to act in a way that won’t cause harm or injury to another party. If a duty of care exists, the next step is to prove that the duty was breached. 

When assessing if a breach occurred, the standard is based on how a reasonable person in the same situation would act. What is considered reasonable depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the situation.

How To Know if a Duty Exists

There are several ways to determine if a duty of care exists in a given situation. You can ask if the defendant: 

  • Knew or should have known that their behavior would harm the plaintiff
  • Had a relationship with the plaintiff either as a business owner, landowner, or caregiver

You are looking to see if there is a relationship between parties that requires one or both of them to behave in a certain way. In personal injury cases, the duty of care typically means that one party should act with care to avoid harming or injuring another party.

For an everyday example of a duty of care, consider anyone who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Drivers have a duty of care to follow the traffic laws and rules of the road to best avoid causing accidents. Another example would be store owners, who have a duty of care to keep their places of business clean and safe for their customers.

Examples of Breach of Duty

If a duty of care is shown to exist, a person will be found to have breached that duty if they failed to act as a reasonable person would have acted in the same situation. Who decides what is reasonable? The jury makes that determination based on the facts of the case. Different fact patterns will require a different standard of reasonableness.   

Some examples of what a breach of the duty of care looks like in real life are:

  • A driver who is texting and not fully focused on the road, causing a car accident
  • A property owner who puts off fixing a broken handrail and doesn’t put up a sign warning of the danger
  • A grocery store owner who knows about a spill in one of the aisles but doesn’t mop it up, put up warning signs, or block off the area, resulting in a slip and fall accident involving a customer
  • A doctor who doesn’t order a test that would be warranted based on the symptoms with which the patient presents 

Once a duty and a breach of that duty have been established, you are halfway toward making a  personal injury claim. 

Breach of Duty and Causation

After showing a duty of care, and a breach of that duty, the next step is to prove that the defendant’s breach of duty directly and proximately caused your injury. 

If a driver was driving over the speed limit but only collided with you because you were texting while driving and abruptly swerved out of your lane in front of them, the driver’s speeding was probably not the cause of the accident. 

What if you rear-ended someone at a red light and that person turned out to be intoxicated? That they consumed alcohol had nothing to do with causing the accident. 

But if someone sped through a red light and crashed into the side of your car while you were attempting a legal left hand-turn, that breach of duty directly (factually) caused the accident. It’s also foreseeable that speeding through a red light would cause that type of accident, thus satisfying the proximate cause portion of the element.

Breach of Duty and Damages

The last element to prove in your personal injury case is that the defendant’s breach of duty  caused the accident and that you incurred financial (economic damages) and non-financial harm (non-economic damages) as a result.

Typical economic damages are medical expenses like doctor’s visits, therapy and rehabilitation, and lost wages. Non-economic damages are for things like your pain and suffering and emotional distress.  

If you aren’t successful at proving the breach of duty caused the accident that resulted in your damages, you will not recover any compensation. 

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Answers To Your Questions

If you have been injured in an accident, you will most likely have many questions about how to get compensated for your various expenses. Don’t contact just any lawyer. 

You want to reach out to a St. Louis personal injury lawyer who has years of experience with these types of cases. They will examine the details of your accident,  assess the strength of your case, and give you a sense of what types of damages you could pursue.