Negligence is the most common legal theory in personal injury cases. Depending on what kind of injury is involved and how it occurred, the standards for proving negligence may be different. In many cases, this hinges on the defendant’s duty of care—their legal obligation to refrain from causing harm to other people. For example, a doctor’s duty of care is different than a mechanic’s, and their duty of care is different than the average layperson’s duty.
Read on to learn how the duty of care can change, depending on the case.
Duty of care
Everyone has a legal obligation to refrain from hurting other people. If you’ve heard the adage, “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins,” you probably already understand this duty. It’s why we pay attention while we’re driving, warn people about slippery floors and have warning labels on the products we use.
In negligence cases, a plaintiff must show that a defendant had a duty of care and failed to meet that duty (breach), such as texting and driving. The plaintiff must then prove that the breach of duty directly and proximately caused their injuries.
Specialized duties of care
Some people and entities have specialized duties of care. One common example is when a plaintiff sues a doctor for medical malpractice.
A doctor has a duty to avoid injuring their patients, whether that’s through surgical error, misdiagnosis or other issues. Their duty of care is a higher standard than a layperson’s, because they have additional education, skills and training that qualify them to work in the medical field. While you could excuse your truck driver Aunt Sally for recommending an over-the-counter medication that would negatively interact with your other prescriptions, your doctor should know better.
On the other hand, if a doctor gets into a car accident because they were texting and driving, their specialized duty of care to patients is irrelevant to the case.
Ultimately, your personal injury attorney will be the one to determine whether a specialized duty of care comes into play in your case. If the legal theory and facts support it, they will certainly raise the issue. If you have any questions about negligence and the defendant’s specific duty, make sure to talk to your lawyer. They’re in the best position to explain how certain issues can affect your case.
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