What Is Duty of Care?

When someone owes another a duty of care, it is normally associated with a fiduciary duty that defines an individual as liable for their decisions because they impact the other individual. For example, if you go to a specific doctor seeking medical treatment, that doctor owes you a duty of care. 

When Duty of Care Is Owed

In general, someone who owes a duty of care must act responsibly and in good faith. Their actions must be in the best interests of the person they are engaging with. This differs based on different situations; however, in most cases, there is an implied duty of care between individuals in public. For example, if someone runs a stop sign, they are not performing their duty of care because they are inconsiderate of other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists who might get hit due to their reckless behavior. In general, individuals in public and fiduciary relationships should act reasonably and prudently that is both ethical and within legal jurisdiction. 

The duty of care is breached when an individual acts in gross negligence, bad faith, malice, or through bad processes. If the other person does not act out of caution, attentiveness, and prudence, they may be considered negligent and sued in court.  A breached duty of care can make the party liable for any damages caused by their neglectful behavior.

According to tort law and in personal injury accidents, there are four levels of duty. This includes the duty to refrain from intentional injury, which means that when an individual is harmed by another intentionally without any legal reason, then it is wrongful. The injured victim can receive compensation. If the person intentionally caused them harm, they can also be punished through criminal law. Another level is negligence, which means that every individual must avoid negligent behavior. 

Reckless Duty of Care

Even though a negligent person doesn’t have the intention to harm another, they can still be held liable if their activity was careless enough to hurt someone. They have to act within reasonable means to avoid creating additional risks that can cause someone injuries. Recklessness is another level of duty of care. This can often apply to first responders, such as firefighters or police officers. Reckless behavior can occur during critical situations and emergencies and results in an official acting with disregard for the well-being of other individuals. For example, an emergency responder can be reckless if they fail to be attentive when they are supposed to be performing their job. 

If an ER tech is supposed to be helping a victim who suffered from a concussion at a mall, but the ER tech paused to answer their cell phone and recklessly stopped managing them, this can be considered a breach of duty. If the person suffers brain damage because of this inattentiveness, the ER tech’s company can be held liable. Lastly, strict liability is another level of duty of care that refers to product liability. When a product has an issue that causes an injury and was used for what it was intended for, the manufacturer is automatically held liable. This is even without proof of negligence because strict liability holds the manufacturer responsible.