Breach Of Duty By The Defendant Explained
Personal injury cases often require the plaintiff to prove the defendant was “negligent” in order to win at trial and recover compensation for any injuries. This means proving each element of a negligence claim.
To win on a claim for personal injury, a plaintiff will generally have to prove:
- the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff;
- the defendant breached that duty;
- the defendant’s breach of that duty caused the plaintiff’s injuries and
- the plaintiff’s injuries caused “damages” the plaintiff can recover.
We will focus on duty and breach specifically below.
What is a “Duty” in Personal Injury Law?
A legal duty is the obligation to conform to a particular standard of conduct toward another person.
In general, people owe few duties to another. However, the one duty we all owe is to behave reasonably.
In limited cases, the law defines and sets out a specific duty. Usually, however, the duty in a negligence case is that a person owed a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, i.e. to behave reasonably.
A common example in personal injury law is a car crash case. When suing a defendant, the duty the defendant failed to live up to would be the duty to exercise reasonable care.
Sometimes this is phrased as the defendant not behaving as a “reasonably prudent person” given the circumstances.
The first step in proving a negligence case would be to prove that this duty existed in the first place.
This involves proving the duty of reasonable care applied. This duty is often dealt with in specific terms. For example, in a car crash case, it would involve examining how a reasonable driver would behave.
Proving what exactly a reasonable person might do under a specific set of circumstances can be tricky.
It typically involves offering up evidence and testimony of what a reasonable person should do in that context. A jury may have to decide what exactly that entails.
How Does a Defendant Breach the Duty?
Proving a defendant breached the duty means first proving the duty existed and what it required of the defendant. A plaintiff then must prove that defendant’s actions breached that duty by failing to live up to that duty.
For example, in the car crash scenario, a plaintiff would prove that a duty reasonable care on the road existed and the defendant, as a driver on the road, was required to live up to it.
If the driver was texting instead of paying attention, the plaintiff would prove that texting and not paying attention was unreasonable and failed to meet the duty.