How Important Is The Duty Of Care In A Personal Injury Case?

Duty of care is a bedrock principle in most personal injury cases. A personal injury attorney considers proving that a defendant had a duty of care to be critical in most instances. Here is a look at what the duty of care is, why it usually matters so much to a personal injury lawyer, and when the exception might be.

What Is the Duty of Care?

A functioning society presupposes that people in certain situations must make every reasonable effort to prevent their actions or failures from harming others. One classic example of the duty of care is the expectation that a grocery store's staff will put out signs indicating a floor is wet if they just mopped an area. Someone could slip on the wet floor and suffer major injuries. Therefore, the store must post signage warning people of the hazard.

Notably, not everyone has a duty of care in all situations. If you're passing by a random building that's on fire, you don't have a duty to rescue the people inside. Strictly speaking, you don't even have a duty to call 9-1-1 and report the fire. If you don't own the building or have any association with it, then your duty of care is zero.

What Imposes a Duty of Care?

Generally, you must actively take on a duty of care. Opening a store is sufficient to accept that duty. Buying and maintaining a house with an adjacent sidewalk also imposes a duty of care in most jurisdictions. Taking your car out on the road assumes a duty of care to avoid reckless or malicious driving.

Why Does It Matter?

A personal injury lawyer has to identify a defendant. Logically, the best defendant is usually whichever entity had the greatest duty of care. If a poorly-maintained amusement park ride fails, the company that runs the park would be the natural target for an injury claim or suit. A reasonable person would expect the park to maintain its rides. Therefore, a personal injury attorney would focus on proving that the park ignored signs the ride was failing.


There are two major exceptions, with one benefiting defendants and the other benefiting claimants. Legal carve-outs may block liability. Frequently, government agencies have legal exemptions.

On the other end, there is strict liability. Strict liability skips past the duty of care and presumes liability if any harm occurred. It usually applies to extremely dangerous activities, such as demolition contracting or owning exotic animals. For more information, contact a personal injury lawyer near you.