Legal Duty: A Critical Concept to Negligence Cases

Concept of justice. Law scales on blue background.Duty, breach, causation, damages. These are the four elements an injured party must prove in order to successfully recover compensation from a wrongdoer. Who or what actually caused the accident and what damages occurred as a result of the accident are non-issues if duty and breach cannot first be established. The plaintiff, or the person who alleges they have been harmed due to the negligence of another (the defendant), has the burden of proving that the defendant had a duty and that this duty was in some way breached in order to bring a viable negligence lawsuit.

Duty

Legal duties exist in all aspects of our lives, whether we realize it or not. Our friends have a duty to warn us about their vicious pet when we come to their house, shopkeepers have a duty to salt their storefront during an ice storm, and restaurant owners must periodically ensure spills are timely cleaned up so no one falls down. These seemingly simple acts are requirements that the owners, managers, and shopkeepers undertake when they choose to open a business.

This duty is defined by reasonableness. Reasonableness, though a legal term, is defined by the unique circumstances of each case. Reasonableness may be determined by best industry practices, past conduct, or how similarly situated individuals or companies carry themselves in similar circumstances. We, as drivers, pedestrians, employees, and homeowners also have legal duties to our friends, patrons, other drivers, and guests, to act reasonably under prescribed sets of circumstances.

Breach of Duty

Breaching your legal duty means that you failed to act reasonably under a particular set of circumstances. This breach may mean you failed to act in a certain manner, or you failed to act at all when action was required. Duties are defined in terms of our legal relationships: employer-employee, parent-child, and storekeeper-patron. These relationships change the magnitude of the duty owed, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the parties. For example, a shopkeeper has a greater responsibility to a customer since they have availed themselves to being open to the public than a friend does when they invite a colleague into their home. These relationships determine a party’s level of responsibility and helps to determine when a failure or shortcoming becomes a legal breach.

Boston Negligence Attorneys

Once the plaintiff can successfully establish duty and breach of said duty, then causation and damages must be established. If you or anyone you know has been injured due to the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation. John J. Sheehan and his team of knowledgeable Massachusetts negligence attorneys know how to navigate even the most complex negligence claims and will ensure that you understand both your legal rights and responsibilities. The law of negligence is one of the most common legal theories in civil litigation, but can be complicated as each case is unique. Acting quickly and working with attorneys you can trust will ease any concerns you have and greatly improve your chances at recovery.  Contact us today to learn more about bringing a negligence legal claim in Boston.