Duty of Care

Definition of a "duty of care"

means a duty to take reasonable care or to exercise reasonable skill (or both);  

The obligation of a person to exercise reasonable care in the conduct of an activity. Breach of a duty of care which causes damage or loss to another may give rise to an action in tort (q.v.).

What is a duty of care?
A duty of care is a legal obligation to avoid causing harm and arises where harm is ‘reasonably foreseeable’ if care is not taken. There must be a sufficient relationship of closeness (sometimes referred to as ‘proximity’) between the two parties in order for a duty of care to exist.

An example of such a relationship is a Lawyer and Client relationship or the relationship between a Doctor and Patient.

Under some legislation, there are qualifications on the duty of care such as, for example, 'good samaritans' and food donors. People acting in an emergency situation without expectation of payment or providing food for a charitable purpose are generally exempt from civil liability, providing they did not act recklessly.

When is a duty of care breached?
In order to establish whether a duty of care has been breached the court will look first of all at the standard of care that is expected in the circumstances.

The standard of care is determined by looking at what a reasonable person would have done (or not done) in the same circumstances. Where a defendant has acted in an unreasonable way or their actions fell well below the standard expected they will be found to have breached their duty of care.

The most common examples are those that apply to everyday activities such as driving. All road users (including pedestrians) are expected to behave according to what is reasonable.

Examples of failure to meet a standard of care:

  • where a driver fails to keep their eyes looking ahead and as a result runs into the rear of the car in front of them
  • where a driver is travelling too close to the car in front of them and runs into the rear because of an inadequate stopping distance.

 

What is standard of care?
The standard of care is the way in which a person should act to make sure that they do not breach their duty of care. The things that need to be done to meet this standard of care are different in every situation, but there are a few guidelines which must always be followed.

A person must act as a reasonable person of the same skills would in the same situation.
 

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