What Does "Duty of Care" Mean in a Personal Injury Case? | Scott Goodwin Law

What Does “Duty of Care” Mean in a Personal Injury Case?

by / Wednesday, 13 December 2023 / Published in Personal Injury

When it comes to personal injury cases, one thing that can be very important to understand is the concept of a “duty of care.” This can come up in a wide range of personal injury cases, including slip and falls, dog attacks, workplace accidents, defective product injuries, medical malpractice, and motor vehicle accidents. So, what exactly is a duty of care and what does it mean for a case?

A duty of care simply means that a person or entity had a responsibility to act in a way that would reasonably prevent harm to others. When a person or entity fails to meet that standard, it’s considered negligence and they could be held liable for injuries caused by that negligence. Here are a few examples: 

  • A homeowner has a responsibility to make sure the walkways around their home are clear so that people who legally come onto their property (such as invited guests, postal workers, and package delivery workers) can do so without slipping on ice or tripping over a hose that’s been left out. 
  • A company loading cargo onto a commercial truck needs to make sure the truck is loaded properly so that it doesn’t tip over on the road and cause an accident. 
  • A grocery store has a responsibility to quickly clean up spills in the store and keep the parking lot in good repair so that customers don’t slip/trip and fall. 
  • A construction company needs to make sure that employees who are working at a height, such as on a roof, have proper training and safety gear to prevent falls. 
  • The manufacturer of a medication needs to provide clear warnings of potential side effects and harmful interactions on their product packaging. 
  • Drivers on the road are required to obey stop signs and traffic signals and yield the right of way to other vehicles and pedestrians. 
  • A dog owner has a responsibility to protect others from being harmed by their pet, such as by keeping it on a leash or in a securely fenced-in yard.

It’s important to note that a standard of care is based on the concept of being reasonable. That doesn’t necessarily mean a person/entity has to take steps to prevent every conceivable way a person could get hurt, but they need to address hazards that would reasonably be understood to be unsafe. For example, things like patches of ice on cement and spilled water on a hard floor are widely understood to be slip hazards. But if a delivery person went onto someone’s property to deliver a package and the delivery person did something completely unexpected, like tried to climb up on the roof of the house and then fell in the process, that is not something the property owner would reasonably expect to happen.

In some situations, the duty of care someone is required to provide can involve reaching a higher standard than an average person would have to meet. For example, if a doctor is accused of medical malpractice, a key question would be whether or not the doctor acted in a way that another doctor with similar training would have while working under similar circumstances. 

Even though there are many situations where a duty of care exists, there are times when it may not apply or when it might be a more complicated matter. For example, if someone is injured while breaking into your home, the duty of care would not exist since they were not legally on your property and you had no reason to expect them to be there. But at the same time, you can’t set traps to actively harm someone who might break into your house. Injuries involving trespassers can be complex, because a duty of care may be required if you know someone is trespassing on your property or if you have reason to believe someone is trespassing. Or if you have something on your property that could be considered an attractive nuisance, there is a responsibility to take steps to protect young children from potentially getting hurt. Even if a child doesn’t have permission to be on your property, children are too young to understand the safety risks of things like swimming pools and trampolines. 

Contact a Michigan Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in any kind of accident, make sure you contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible for help with your case. Negligence cases can be complex, so it’s important to have someone on your side who knows the law and can help you get the justice you deserve. At Scott Goodwin Law, you’ll be able to get help from lawyers experienced in handling a wide range of personal injury cases. Contact us today to schedule a free case consultation.