If you’ve been hurt because of the actions of another person—in a motor vehicle accident, because of a dangerous or defective product, or in a slip and fall—you have a right to pursue compensation for your losses by filing a civil suit for damages. In most instances, the legal theory you’ll use to pursue monetary compensation will be based on allegations of negligence. The necessary elements of negligence are:
- Breach of a duty to use reasonable care
- Actual injury
This blog looks at the duty to reasonable care. To learn about causation or what constitutes actual injury, see those blogs.
The Standard of Care for Negligence
The principles of law governing negligence are generally not found in statutes, but in what is known as the “common law,” based on written opinions handed down by judges over the past few centuries. One of the fundamental concepts related to negligence is the assumption that all people have a duty, in everything they do, to exercise a certain level of care, so as not to put others at risk of injury or harm. Accordingly, whether you’re driving a car, erecting a building or set of stairs, manufacturing or marketing a product, or operating a power tool, it’s expected that you will act as a reasonable person would. If you don’t, you will be considered to have “breached” the duty of care.
That begs the question—how does the law define “reasonable care”? For the most part, it actually doesn’t. Both what constitutes reasonable care and whether the defendant exercised or breached the duty to exercise reasonable care are considered issues of fact, to be determined by the jury (or the judge, if there is no jury). Accordingly, what constitutes reasonable care may vary from case to case, based in the fact situation. Prior cases addressing similar fact situations typically act as precedent…a court can conclude that because a prior jury found certain behavior unreasonable, it does as well. But ultimately, it’s an issue of fact that is not subject to appeal.
Once you’ve established the breach, you must then show that the wrongful act caused injury.
Contact the Law Office of Shaffer & Gaier, L.L.C.
At Shaffer & Gaier, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. To set up an appointment, contact us online or call our office in Philadelphia at 215-751-0100, or in New Jersey at 856-429-0970. Evening and weekend meetings can be arranged upon request. We will travel to your home, if necessary, to meet with you.