Understanding a Personal Injury Claim—The Standard of Care

When you have been hurt because of the wrongful act of another person, you have a right to pursue monetary compensation, also known as “damages,” from the at-fault party. Though you can file a personal injury lawsuit based on intentional acts, most actions to recover damages are based on a legal theory of negligence. To succeed on a negligence claim, you must show that the at-fault party “breached” a duty of care, that the breach “caused” your injury, and that you suffered actual loss. This blog looks at the first element, the duty of care.

The Legal Duty of Care in a Personal Injury Case

Personal Injury Claim—The Standard of CareMost personal injury claims are governed by what is known as the “common law,” from opinions written by judges over centuries. Through the common law, courts have established a standard of care to which all persons must adhere. That standard of care requires that, in all things you do, whether driving a car, maintaining property, or designing or building a product, you must exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would. That, of course, begs the question—what is a reasonable level of care.

Unfortunately, the law does not specifically define what constitutes a reasonable level of care and only provides some guidance—reasonable care is that care that would be exercised by an “average person of ordinary prudence.” As a practical matter, the determination of what amounts to reasonable care, and whether the defendant breached that duty, is the responsibility of the finder of fact, typically a jury (the judge will be the finder of fact when there is no jury). Accordingly, what qualifies as “reasonable care” can vary on a case-to-case basis.

Showing that the defendant breached that duty won’t be sufficient, though, to merit a jury award. You must next show that the defendant’s breach caused your injury.

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