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What Is Breach of Duty? Legal Definition & Examples

If you're pursuing a personal injury claim, you may be required to prove a 'breach of duty.' This element is crucial in demonstrating negligence on the defendant's part. Not only is it a key factor in negligence cases, but it's also a requirement in those involving strict liability. 

Understanding this concept could significantly enhance the strength of your claim. This guide delves into the topic of 'breach of duty.' So, if you're looking to understand the complexities of your case better, it may prove to be an excellent read. 

What Is The Duty Of Care In Personal Injury Claims?

To understand the breach of duty in personal injury cases, you must first grasp the concept of 'duty of care.' This term refers to the legal obligation of individuals to exercise reasonable care while performing acts that could harm others. 

For example, drivers have a duty of care to drive safely, considering the foreseeable risks to other road users. 

What Constitutes a Breach of Duty?

A breach of duty occurs when someone fails to meet the standard of care required by law under given circumstances. Central to this concept is the 'reasonable person standard.' This standard is a hypothetical measure of behavior that the law uses to determine whether an individual's conduct lacks reasonable care. 

Consider a health practitioner, for instance. We expect them to exhibit the same level of skill, care, and diligence as a reasonably competent practitioner in their field would under similar circumstances. If they fail to meet this standard, they have acted in breach of the duty. 

Another example is if a surgeon fails to inform a patient of potential risks associated with a procedure — something any reasonable surgeon would do — they may be said to have breached their duty of care. It's crucial to note that the benchmark is not perfection but reasonableness, reflecting what society expects from us with respect to others' well-being.

In personal injury law, a breach of duty of care is typically established in four scenarios:

  • If the defendant contributes to the risk that caused harm, such as improper disposal of hazardous waste or contamination of a community's water supply.
  • If the defendant voluntarily assumes the responsibility of protecting the plaintiff from harm but fails to do so, for example, an inattentive lifeguard. 
  • If the defendant knew or should have known, their actions would cause harm, such as engaging in drag racing on a busy street. 
  • In a business-customer relationship. For example, a situation where a restaurant owner fails to clear a spill, leading to a customer slipping and falling and suffering a personal injury.

Breach of Duty in Strict Liability

Unlike in negligence-based cases, where we employ the 'reasonable person standard,' strict liability involves an absolute duty to ensure no harm occurs, irrespective of the level of care exercised.

“Strict liability is applied in many cases involving product liability, dangerous animals, or abnormally dangerous activities such as storing explosives. In these scenarios, if anyone is harmed, you are held liable, regardless of the defendant's cautiousness,” says Attorney Maxwell Paderewski, a personal injury lawyer at Lone Star Injury Attorneys, PLLC

Why You Need a Lawyer for Establishing Breach of Duty

Without proving this essential element, recovery of compensation may not be possible. Hence, the importance of a lawyer comes to the fore. 

Legal counsel guides you through this complex process, armed with the knowledge and experience to strengthen your case. They could also counter any defenses the opposing party puts forth, including claiming your contribution to a fault.

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