What is Breach of Duty?
Breach of duty occurs when a person’s conduct fails to meet an applicable standard of care. It is one of the four elements of negligence.
If the defendant’s conduct fails to meet the required standard of care, they are said to have breached that duty. For example, a driver may breach his duty to other drivers to drive safely by texting while driving. Note that it is a question of fact for the jury to determine whether a defendant breached their duty.
To establish liability for negligence, a plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
- The defendant breached that duty
- The breach caused harm to the plaintiff
- The plaintiff suffered an injury/damages
What are the Standards of Care in a Personal Injury Claim?
The defendant’s standard of care varies depending on the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant.
The normal standard is “that degree of care which is exercised by ordinarily prudent persons under the same or similar circumstances.” O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2. For ordinary negligence claims, a plaintiff proves that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to act as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances.
Let’s look at some common examples of this breach of duty:
- A customer drops a container of milk at the grocery store. An employee cleans up the spill and mops the area. However, the employee does not put up a “wet floor” sign over the wet spot. Another customer walks by, slips and falls, and breaks an arm. A jury might find that the employee/grocery store breached their duty to maintain safe premises for their customers by not using a wet floor sign to alert customers to a hazard. A reasonable grocery store employee would typically place a wet floor sign over a spill to prevent customers from walking over it.
- A property owner has a deck attached to the back of their house, overlooking a beautiful lake. The deck has deteriorated with time. The owner realizes it may no longer be safe and that it needs to be repaired. However, they’re too busy with work and decide to put off the repair for one more year. Then they invite friends over for the 4th of July. They all gather on the deck, sitting and watching the sunset over the lake. The deck fails, and the guests tumble to the ground, suffering many injuries. This is another likely example of a breach of duty. Under these circumstances, most property owners would repair the deck or warn guests of the dangers of using the deck before allowing guests onto it.
This standard applies when a professional provides a service to someone, for example, when a doctor treats a patient. It is that degree of care that is exercised by other competent professionals under similar circumstances.
For example, a patient comes into the hospital to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in their left foot. The surgery is to be performed by an orthopedist, but not the one who diagnosed the injury. The surgeon misreads the patient’s chart and operates on the right foot instead of the left one. This is likely a breach of duty on the orthopedist’s part because other surgeons under the same circumstances probably would have correctly read the patient’s chart.
A common carrier is a company that transports passengers or goods. Under Georgia law, they “are bound to use extraordinary diligence.” O.C.G.A. § 46-9-1.
Negligence Per Se
People have a duty to comply with the law.
If a person violates a specific statute and injures someone, they have committed negligence per se if:
- The injured plaintiff falls within the class of persons the statute is intended to protect; and
- The harm suffered is the type the statute was designed to protect against.
In other words, a person can be found negligent when they breach their duty to comply with the law and hurt another person the law intended to protect.
For example, assume that Bill has a vicious dog. He takes it to a park for a walk. At the park, there is a leash law in effect. Bill gets to the park and lets his dog run free. The dog bites a young girl’s hand when she tries to pet it. The scenario is likely an example of negligence per se. This is because another person in the park is within the class of persons the leash law is intended to protect, and a dog bite is the type of harm the statute is designed to prevent.
Other examples include:
- A driver who runs a red light, crashes into another car in the intersection and injures the other driver.
- A driver who is speeding and hits a pedestrian.
- An employer who fails to follow an OSHA safety rule.
All these examples follow a similar pattern – there is a law designed to protect people, and the defendant breaches their duty by not following the law.
Contact an Attorney to Discuss Your Claim
If you’ve suffered an injury at the hands of another person who breached their duty to exercise the appropriate standard of care, you may be entitled to damages. Contact our attorneys today so that we can help you get the compensation you deserve.