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Duty of Care

Definition - What does Duty of Care mean?

All persons and organizations have a legal responsibility or duty of care to perform actions or avoid omissions which are likely to cause injury and harm to others. Failure to act or an omission which causes harm to others is considered a breach of duty.

Duty is established when the law recognizes a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff. It is this duty which creates the legal obligation for the plaintiff to act or not act in a certain way towards the defendant. When the action or omission causes a breach and the plaintiff did not act in a reasonable manner to fulfill their duty, the courts may find there was a "breach of duty."

Common examples of duty of care include drivers obeying driving laws established by the state government, accountants following accepted accounting standards while preparing company accounting information, owners of a company maintaining their property, and doctors following standard levels of care in the medical services they provide to their patients.

Proving personal injury

Individuals who have been injured due to the negligence of another person and have suffered loss may be able to receive compensation for their injuries. To win their injury claim, however, they must prove several elements of their personal injury case, including the defendant owed them a duty of care, the duty was breached, the breach was the proximate cause of the claimant's injury, and the claimant suffered loss. If all elements can be proven the defendant may be held liable.

Damages in a personal injury case

If a defendant cannot prove the elements of their injury claim they are not entitled to compensation. For example, even if there is a breach of duty but no one suffers injury or harm, there is not a valid injury claim and no compensation can be recovered.

Defendants who win their personal injury lawsuit, however, may be entitled to compensation for lost wages, current and future payment for medical expenses, and payment for pain and suffering. In some cases, if the defendant can prove the plaintiff acted maliciously or with willful intent, they may also be entitled to punitive damages.

Workers Compensation and Duty of Care

Workers' compensation claims vary from other injury claims. Under workers' compensation laws if a worker is injured performing their normal job duties they may receive compensation for their injuries without proving certain elements of a normal injury claim. For instance, compensation may be awarded to the injured worker without the worker proving the employer had a duty towards them, they breached their duty, or that it was the employer's negligence which caused the worker's injury.

Injured workers, instead, forfeit their right to sue their employer and the employer simply provides workers' compensation benefits to the worker for their injury or loss. Workers' compensation payment amounts are established by state law.

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