Duty of Care - Definition, Meaning, Examples, Cases, Negligence (2023)

Duty of Care meaning in law

A duty of care is the legal responsibility of a person or organization to avoid any behaviors or omissions that could reasonably be foreseen to cause harm to others. For example, a duty of care is owed by an accountant in correctly preparing a customer’s tax returns, to minimize the chance of an IRS audit. Similarly, manufacturers owe a duty of care to consumers in making sure that their products are safe for public use. To explore this concept, consider the following duty of care definition.

Definition of Duty of Care


  1. The responsibility of a person or organization to take all reasonable measures necessary to prevent activities that could result in harm to other individuals and/or their property.

Duty of Care Law

Because each of the states is free to develop its own duty of care laws, there are several different tests to determine whether someone has a duty of care under U.S. tort law. Under certain states’ duty of care laws, such as Florida and Massachusetts, the only test is whether the harm that the defendant’s actions caused could have been predicted by another reasonable person in the same circumstance. California’s duty of care law provides of one of the more complex tests in the nation, which carefully balances certain factors to determine whether a duty of care existed in a negligence action.

Some of these factors include:

  • The foreseeability of harm to the injured party
  • The degree to which the injured party suffered
  • The closeness of the connection between the defendant’s behavior and the plaintiff’s injury or other damages
  • The availability, cost, and commonness of insurance for the risks that were involved

What is Duty of Care

A duty of care is the responsibility that a person or business has when doing business with, or otherwise interacting with, other people and businesses. Under tort law, duty of care is defined as the responsibility of a person or business to act as a reasonable person would act in a similar situation. A person who violates his duty of care by acting in a negligent or reckless matter is then liable for any harm that another person suffers as a result of his behavior. Examples of duty of care relationships include:


Those who manufacture products owe a duty of care to those who buy them. This means that the products must be reasonably safe for others to use. Products should also carry warnings about any potential dangers that can result from using the product.

For instance, while a chain saw is not exactly “safe” to use, it should be reasonably safe enough that it is not impossible to use. It should also have an obvious warning label informing the customer of how he can become injured and the steps he can take to prevent this.

Property Owners

Those who own businesses and homes both have a duty of care to anyone who comes onto their property, to ensure there are no reasonably foreseen dangers. For instance, a clothing store has a duty of care to ensure a tear in the carpet does not remain to trip customers, who might then be injured.

Most states have different rules insofar as what kinds of protections property owners must offer to their visitors. Typically, and understandably, customers receive the highest level of care, while trespassers receive little to none.


Managers and other top-level representatives of businesses are expected to make reasonable decisions that are in the best interests of their business. This duty of care is one that they owe to their own businesses, and it is referred to as the “business judgment rule.”

There are also specialized tort situations that require a specialized duty of care. For example, duty of care in a medical malpractice case requires that a doctor act in a way that is comparable to another reasonable doctor in his field. This is different from comparing his actions to a reasonable everyman in a similar situation. The same goes for legal malpractice cases. Here, an attorney’s duty of care is to act as another reasonable attorney would in a similar situation.

Some situations, however, are so dangerous that no matter how much care a person takes in his actions, it is impossible to make the situation “reasonably safe” in the eyes of the law. The person is therefore held responsible for injuries and/or damages no matter what. These situations are referred to as “strict liability” cases. Examples of this include the manufacturing of explosives, or the possession of dangerous animals.

Medical Duty of Care

Medical duty of care refers to a doctor’s duty of care to his patient. According to the law, there must be a “special” relationship between the doctor and his patient for the doctor to be liable for any injuries that can result from his conduct.

For instance, if a doctor is eating dinner at a restaurant, and one of the customers there begins to choke, he is under no obligation to help that person. The customer cannot sue the doctor for malpractice for failing to help him because he does not have a relationship with that doctor.

However, if the doctor decides to take it upon himself and help the customer, the doctor then opens himself up to a malpractice or negligence lawsuit if anything goes wrong. Once the doctor initiates a relationship with that person, he owes a medical duty of care to act in a manner that another doctor would act in similar circumstances.

If a patient decides to sue a doctor for negligence, the doctor may not be the only one at fault. The hospital that has hired the doctor may also be held to the same medical duty of care standard because, in hiring the doctor, the hospital agrees to supervise his actions. The hospital can then be held liable for the negligence of its employees.

Medical Malpractice and Negligence

For a patient to be successful in a medical malpractice case, he must be able to first show that the doctor owed him a duty of care. This is done by proving that the doctor and patient had a special relationship with one another at the time of the incident. Typically, all that is needed as proof of this relationship is the patient’s medical records and, occasionally, testimony that is given in court showing that the patient chose that doctor voluntarily and was then examined by that doctor.

The patient must then be able to show the level of care that would have been appropriate in his situation. This is to establish that the doctor may have been negligent in meeting the appropriate level of care for that patient. Should the court determine that the doctor was, in fact, negligent, the patient can be awarded damages based on his claim of malpractice.

Legal Duty of Care

A legal duty of care is very similar to a medical duty of care. The only difference is that this situation involves attorneys instead of doctors. Here, there must also exist a “special” relationship between an attorney and his client before a client can successfully sue the attorney for malpractice. An attorney who has not yet been retained on a case does not owe a legal duty of care to the person he has met with because that person is not yet his client.

Once the person retains the attorney for his case, he becomes a client. The attorney is then held to the same legal duty of care that other attorneys in similar situations and fields of law would be held to. This means that the attorney is responsible for acting in the client’s best interests, and to take all steps possible to prevent the client from incurring additional damages as the result of his claim.

Legal Malpractice and Negligence

Legal malpractice is similar to medical malpractice in that the malpractice occurs when an attorney is negligent in his duty of care to his client. Here, negligence amounts to an attorney not exercising “reasonable care,” meaning that he does not practice with the same level of skill that another attorney in a similar situation would. In order for a client to win a malpractice case, he must be able to prove that he would have won his case had it not been for his attorney’s negligence in handling the matter.

Duty of Care Examples

Cara Munn, a 15-year-old girl attending the private Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, participated in a summer program in China that was organized by the school in March of 2007. Among the materials that were sent home to parents in preparation for the trip were a link to the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s webpage and a recommendation to pack bug spray. However, no warnings were included insofar as the insect-borne diseases that the students could contract while abroad.

On June 23, 2007, the students traveled to Mt. Pan, which is a forested mountain in China. No warnings about wearing bug spray were given prior to embarking on the trip. After hiking to the top of the mountain, Munn and some of the other students decided to hike back down while the group leader and the rest of the students took a cable car. On their way down, however, the students got lost and walked through trees and brush.

Munn received several insect bites and an itchy welt on her left arm. Ten days later, Munn awoke with a headache, wooziness, and a fever. Her conditioned worsened quickly to the point where she was taken to a local hospital. Munn was airlifted back to New York. By this point, she was severely ill, and partially paralyzed.

Upon her return, Munn was diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis (“TBE”), a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system. Due to her illness, Munn lost the ability to speak, and had trouble controlling her facial muscles, which caused her to drool.

Munn and her parents sued Hotchkiss for neglecting the duty of care it owed to Munn. At trial, Munn, still unable to speak, testified via a machine into which she typed her answers. Munn’s mother testified that Munn’s condition led to “a lot of rejection,” and that she had also lost some cognitive function, especially in the areas of reading comprehension and math. Munn, however, managed to lead a functional life after the incident, finishing high school and attending college. She also continued to travel, play sports, and hold summer internships.

The jury found Hotchkiss guilty of negligence, and awarded the Munns $41.5 million in damages. On appeal, Hotchkiss argued that it was not legally obligated to warn the students about tick-borne diseases, nor was it their responsibility to protect the students from tick-borne encephalitis. The school also complained that the jury award was excessive.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with the Munns that there was indeed enough evidence for the jury to find that Munn’s illness was foreseeable. However, the court was unable to determine whether Hotchkiss could be held legally responsible for her condition.

The court ultimately remanded the case back to the Connecticut Supreme Court for the lower court to potentially deduce the answers to two questions:

  • If Connecticut’s public policy supported imposing a duty on Hotchkiss to warn students about, or protect them from, serious insect-borne diseases when organizing trips out of the country; and
  • If so, should the damages award then be reduced

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Audit – An official inspection of someone’s financial accounts.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Retain – To keep someone engaged in a service, such as an attorney.
  • Tort – An intentional or negligent act, a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal act, which causes harm to another.


What is a duty of care in negligence? ›

You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour

What is a duty of care example? ›

Examples of duty of care

An example of duty of care is providing that worker with a specialist keyboard that allows them to complete tasks at work. Your duty of care also extends to disabled staff members. For example, an employee was involved in a car accident and is now confined to a wheelchair.

What case is used for duty of care? ›

The legal basis for finding a duty of care has its roots in Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562.

Are negligence and duty of care the same? ›

The most important tort is that of negligence and the most important element of that tort is the duty of care. A person is liable for every negligent act they commit. The control element for legal liability is the requirement for the defendant to owe the plaintiff a duty of care.

Which is an example of negligence? ›

Examples of negligence include: A driver who runs a stop sign causing an injury crash. A store owner who fails to put up a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign after mopping up a spill. A property owner who fails to replace rotten steps on a wooden porch that collapses and injures visiting guests.

What is meaning of duty of care? ›

A duty of care is a legal obligation (that we all have) to take reasonable steps to not cause foreseeable harm to another person or their property.

What are the 7 duties of care? ›

  • Examples of how you exercise the duty of care in your work:
  • Risk Management – Ensuring that. ...
  • Health and Safety – Ensuring that: ...
  • Safeguarding – Ensuring that: ...
  • The Workplace – ensuring that: ...
  • Clients – In addition to safeguarding them from abuse.

What are the 5 duties of care? ›

Duty to Care is actually an umbrella term that encompasses the following areas: Inclusion, Diversity, Mental Health, Well-being and Safeguarding.

What is the most common example of negligence? ›

Incorrect medication prescriptions or administration of drugs is one of the most common cases of medical negligence reported. This can occur when a patient is prescribed the wrong drug for their illness, receives another patient's medication or receives an incorrect dosage of medication.

What is the duty of a case? ›

In California, the “duty of care” refers to the legal obligation to use reasonable care to avoid injuring others. In order to prevail in a California personal injury case, a plaintiff must show that: The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; The defendant breached that duty; and.

What is the standard of care in a negligence case? ›

If a person breaches the standard that applies to them and their actions cause harm to another person, they will be liable for negligence. The standard of care usually revolves around the concept of the reasonable person standard: whether someone acted with care as the average person would have in those circumstances.

What are the 4 types of negligence? ›

While seemingly straightforward, the concept of negligence itself can also be broken down into four types of negligence: gross negligence, comparative negligence, contributory negligence, and vicarious negligence or vicarious liability. Gross negligence refers to a more serious form of negligent conduct.

Is negligence a breach of duty of care? ›

Breaching a duty of care is commonly known as the law of negligence. A breach in the duty of care means one party that has done something, or failed to do something, which may result in injury to another and cause them to suffer a loss.

What are the 5 components of a negligence case? ›

Doing so means you and your lawyer must prove the five elements of negligence: duty, breach of duty, cause, in fact, proximate cause, and harm.

What is an example of negligence in healthcare? ›

Types of Hospital Negligence

Prescribing the wrong medication or giving the patient the wrong dosage. Performing surgery on the wrong patient and/or wrong part of the body. Failing to diagnose a medical condition or misdiagnosing it altogether. Discharging the patient prematurely.

What are the three elements of duty of care? ›

The criteria are as follows: Harm must be a "reasonably foreseeable" result of the defendant's conduct; A relationship of "proximity" must exist between the defendant and the claimant; It must be "fair, just and reasonable" to impose liability.

What are the four elements of duty of care? ›

A duty of care existed between the negligent person and the claimant; The negligent person breached their duty of care responsibilities; Injury or damage was suffered due to a negligent act or failure to exercise duty of care; A compensation claim for damages is established.

What is the test for duty of care? ›

The test for whether the defendant was careless is whether they failed to take reasonable care to avoid acts potentially harmful to those whom a reasonable person would have foreseen as likely to be adversely affected by such action (Donoghue v Stevenson).

Who does a duty of care apply to? ›

'Duty of care' is a phrase used to describe the obligations implicit in your role as a health or social care worker. As a health or social care worker you owe a duty of care to your patients/ service users, your colleagues, your employer, yourself and the public interest.

What are 3 duty of care responsibilities for workers? ›

While at work a worker must: take reasonable care for their own health and safety. take reasonable care for the health and safety of others. comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by their employer, business or controller of the workplace.

What are 5 different types of care? ›

Types of Care
  • Residential Care.
  • Nursing Care.
  • Dementia Care.
  • Respite Care.
  • Convalescent /Post-Operative Care.
  • Continuing Care.
  • End of Life Care/Palliative Care.

What 3 things must you prove to have a case for negligence? ›

Proving Negligence in a California Personal Injury Case
  • That the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  • That the defendant breached such duty through negligence; and.
  • That the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm (“causation”).

What are the 3 steps to prove negligence? ›

Proving Negligence. Most civil lawsuits for injuries allege the wrongdoer was negligent. To win in a negligence lawsuit, the victim must establish 4 elements: (1) the wrongdoer owed a duty to the victim, (2) the wrongdoer breached the duty, (3) the breach caused the injury (4) the victim suffered damages.

What are the three most common types of negligence claims? ›

What Are the Different Types of Negligence?
  • Comparative Negligence. Comparative negligence laws allow an injured person to recover compensation even if they are partially responsible for the accident. ...
  • Contributory Negligence. ...
  • Gross Negligence. ...
  • Vicarious Negligence.
31 Aug 2021

Why is duty of care important? ›

A duty of care is a legal duty to provide a reasonable standard of care to your patients and to act in ways that protect their safety. A duty of care exists when it could reasonably be expected that a person‟s actions, or failure to act, might cause injury to another person.

How do you win a negligence case? ›

In order to win a negligence case, all of the following elements must be present and provable:
12 Jun 2015

What are the 4 elements of negligence in healthcare? ›

To do so, four legal elements must be proven: (1) a professional duty owed to the patient; (2) breach of such duty; (3) injury caused by the breach; and (4) resulting damages.

What are the three types of negligence in healthcare? ›

There are three common types of medical malpractice lawsuits – failure to make the correct diagnosis, birth injuries and medication errors. In this blog, we discuss these medical errors in order to help you determine whether you have suffered an injury as a result of medical negligence.

What are the 2 types of negligence? ›

What are the four types of negligence?
  • Gross Negligence. Gross Negligence is the most serious form of negligence and is the term most often used in medical malpractice cases. ...
  • Contributory Negligence. ...
  • Comparative Negligence. ...
  • Vicarious Negligence.

What causes negligence? ›

negligentia) is a failure to exercise appropriate and/or ethical ruled care expected to be exercised amongst specified circumstances. The area of tort law known as negligence involves harm caused by failing to act as a form of carelessness possibly with extenuating circumstances.

What is a negligence claim? ›

Negligence cases are civil cases, which are known as “tort actions.” The term “tort” simply means a legal wrong. Negligence law allows you to sue someone for the harm they caused you either by accident or recklessness.

› legal-articles › negligence-and-breac... ›

When someone's negligence leads to another person suffering an injury, the victim may have the right to pursue legal compensation against the negligent part...
Negligence, is the basis of personal injury claims and lawsuits. In order to successfully prove a claim in negligence, the person commencing the lawsuit (the pl...
See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical Harm § 3 (P.F.D. No. 1, 2005). Negligent conduct may consist of either an act, or an omission to act wh...

What are the 7 duties of care? ›

  • Examples of how you exercise the duty of care in your work:
  • Risk Management – Ensuring that. ...
  • Health and Safety – Ensuring that: ...
  • Safeguarding – Ensuring that: ...
  • The Workplace – ensuring that: ...
  • Clients – In addition to safeguarding them from abuse.

What are the 5 duties of care? ›

Duty to Care is actually an umbrella term that encompasses the following areas: Inclusion, Diversity, Mental Health, Well-being and Safeguarding.

What are the 3 duties of care? ›

A manager's duty of care to his or her people typically involves the following: Providing and maintaining safe physical work environments. Ensuring compliance with appropriate industry standards and statutory safety regulations. Ensuring that people work a reasonable number of hours, and have adequate rest breaks.

What are the 4 responsibilities of duty of care? ›

Duty of Care is about individual wellbeing , welfare, compliance and good practice.

What are the three elements of duty of care? ›

The criteria are as follows: Harm must be a "reasonably foreseeable" result of the defendant's conduct; A relationship of "proximity" must exist between the defendant and the claimant; It must be "fair, just and reasonable" to impose liability.

What are the elements of duty of care? ›

To make a claim of negligence in NSW, you must prove three elements: A duty of care existed between you and the person you are claiming was negligent; The other person breached their duty of care owed to you; and. Damage or injury suffered by you was caused by the breach of the duty.

What is the test for duty of care? ›

The test for whether the defendant was careless is whether they failed to take reasonable care to avoid acts potentially harmful to those whom a reasonable person would have foreseen as likely to be adversely affected by such action (Donoghue v Stevenson).

› wiki › Duty_of_care ›

Duty of care

https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Duty_of_care
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Duty_of_care
In tort law, a duty of care is a legal obligation that is imposed on an individual, requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any ac...
Duty of care is part of tort law that refers to not causing harm to another person. It is an expectation that all people will act responsibly. Failure to provid...
Duty of care is a term for the legal responsibility of maintaining the health and well-being of others. Each of us has a moral obligation to take care not to ha...

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