In the realm of personal injury law, understanding key terms is crucial. The term “breach of duty” is one of them. Breach of duty is the cornerstone of negligence claims. As most personal injury claims are brought on the basis of negligence, understanding breach of duty is important.
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This resource aims to provide a detailed definition and breakdown of breach of duty, shedding light on its significance in personal injury cases.
Table of Contents
What Is Negligence?
Negligence occurs when someone fails to exercise the standard of care expected in a given situation, leading to harm or injury to another person. In order to successfully bring a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove all four elements of negligence: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
First, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. Most individuals owe a duty of care to act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. For instance, drivers owe a duty of care to look out for pedestrians at crosswalks.
Breach of Duty
Second, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. That means that they did not meet the standard of care expected of them. In the driver example, the driver may have breached their duty of care if they were looking at their phone while driving through a crosswalk.
Third, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused their injuries. The plaintiff must establish actual causation, meaning that the injury would not have happened if not for the defendant’s actions. The plaintiff must also establish proximate causation, meaning that it is reasonably foreseeable the defendant’s actions would result in the type of injuries in question.
In the above example, if the driver is looking at their phone and hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk, looking at the phone is both the actual and proximate cause of the pedestrian’s injuries. The accident wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and is reasonably foreseeable that using a phone while driving could result in injuries to a pedestrian.
Fourth and finally, a plaintiff must prove that damages exist. In other words, the plaintiff must show that she suffered injuries as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty. Damages are the compensation provided for physical, emotional, or financial injuries.
This framework of negligence provides context for breach of duty. While breach of duty is important, a plaintiff must also prove all of the other elements of negligence, or an otherwise valid claim could be dismissed.
What Counts as a Breach of Duty?
A breach of duty occurs when an individual or entity fails to meet the standard of care owed to others in a specific situation. This standard of care is often defined by what a reasonable person would do under similar circumstances.
A jury, or industry standards, will usually decide what is “reasonable.” Identifying a breach involves assessing whether the responsible party’s actions deviated from this standard.
In negligence cases, the determination of a breach requires a holistic assessment of the defendant’s actions in context. What constitutes a breach is based on common practice, except in negligence per se cases.
Under a negligence per se standard, someone who violates a law is deemed to have automatically satisfied the breach of duty element. In negligence per se cases, the standard for one’s duty of care is set by the law.
Applying Breach of Duty to Personal Injury Cases
In personal injury cases, establishing a breach of duty is a crucial element in proving negligence. Here are a few examples of breach of duty in personal injury cases:
- Traffic Accidents: In traffic accidents, a breach of duty may involve actions like speeding, running red lights, or driving under the influence.
- Medical Malpractice: If a healthcare professional deviates from the accepted standard of care, it may constitute a breach of duty.
- Premises Liability: Premises liability means that property owners have a duty to maintain safe conditions. Failure to address hazards, such as slippery floors or uneven surfaces, could be a breach of duty.
These are just a few examples of breach of duty. You should consult an attorney to determine whether a breach likely happened in your situation.
How To Prove Breach of Duty
Proving a breach of duty is essential in building a strong personal injury case. A plaintiff can take the following steps to prove a breach of duty:
- Define the duty of care. It helps to examine common expectations and practices surrounding the activity. For professional malpractice or deviations from industry protocol, you should look to industry experts. If the duty of care is defined by a law, e.g. traffic laws, then you should look to the standard outlined in that law.
- Present evidence of a deviation from the duty. Provide evidence demonstrating how the responsible party deviated from the established standard of care. This should include documentation/evidence of the defendant’s actions, as well as witness testimonies, expert opinions, or documentation showing the deviation from the defendant’s duty.
- For negligence per se claims, show that the statute applies to you. First, one should establish that the defendant violated a law. Then, you should show that the law was meant to protect people in your situation (e.g. if the law in question protected pedestrians, showing that you were a pedestrian). From there, the causation and damages elements are the same.
Knowing how to prove breach of duty is pivotal to the success of your personal injury claim.
Contact a Fort Worth Personal Injury Lawyer for Help Proving Breach of Duty
For personalized legal advice and assistance, contact or call Stephens Law Firm, PLLC at (817) 420 7000 for a free consultation with an experienced Fort Worth personal injury attorney. Remember, knowing your rights is the first step toward securing the compensation you deserve.