DUTY – LAW 101

Hello, I’m attorney Kyle Bachus. The legal world is full of overly complicated jargon and terminology that can be intimidating if you don’t know what it means. In my law 101 video series, I’m breaking down some commonly used legal terms so you can be informed and confident should you ever need to take legal action.

In this episode of law 101, we’re going to break down the legal term duty.

In some of our other videos, we talked about negligence, and we talked about the tort of negligence and the duty to act as a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances. So as we go around and interact with people on a day to day basis, we all have a duty under the law to act reasonably with our interactions with others. And if you act unreasonable and cause harm to somebody, then you could have breached this duty.

But duty can be imposed in other circumstances, and in some circumstances, it doesn’t exist at all. Let me describe what I’m talking about. Number one, let’s talk about imposed duties. An employer/employee, a duty is imposed on the employer for the actions of their employee. Even though they may not be the actor if the employee is acting within the course and scope of employment.

You may have a duty imposed, let’s say by an airline; those are special carriers. If you run a train or are on a plane, there’s a duty that’s imposed because they’re a common carrier. They have a duty owed to you to act reasonably. Even if they wouldn’t otherwise interact with you, the airline itself, for instance. Some situations don’t have a duty; in fact, in most states, there’s no duty to rescue.

If you saw something happening where somebody else was being exposed to harm, and you failed to intervene, you don’t have a duty to go rescue somebody from something that has occurred. There’s a big exception to that one, though, and that is if you caused the harm, then you do have a duty to rescue or a duty to help. So if you hurt somebody, let’s say you’re driving your car and you cause a collision, you actually have a duty to stay and render assistance to those that you might have harmed.

That’s a specially imposed duty. Duty is this obligation we all have to one another in society. Sometimes there’s a duty that can be imposed; sometimes, it doesn’t exist. But in almost all of our interactions every day, we have to act reasonably towards others, and we can be accountable in civil court if we violate that duty owed to others, and we cause harm to them.

If you have questions about a particular situation that you’re involved in, where you believe somebody had a duty to act reasonably towards you, and they violated that duty. And you have questions about whether that can serve as a basis for a civil case, we’re happy to talk with you at Bachus & Schanker and answer further questions about this. To learn more about other law topics that can help you feel informed and confident about the law, make sure to check out more videos in this series.

LEGAL DUTY – FAQs

A duty is a legal obligation of one person or party towards others. The law creates a legal agreement for someone to act in a reasonable way to avoid causing harm to others.

The 50 percent rule allows a victim to receive compensation for personal injury if they are not 50% or more responsible for the accident. If thDuty forms the basis of a personal injury claim. It is a legal obligation. When someone breaches their obligation, and an accident occurs, that violation may form the basis for the victim to receive financial compensation through a personal injury claim.

Each person or party in society must conduct themselves in a way that doesn’t hurt others. A person can’t act in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. If they do, and someone gets hurt, it’s only fair that the person who created the risk should pay for the injuries and damage.

The principles of the duty of care are twofold:

  1. Each person must act reasonably and cautiously.
  2. When they don’t, they’re legally liable for the results of their actions.

A breach of duty is the failure to meet the standards of reasonable care. The breach refers to the failure to uphold that legal obligation.

The breach of duty is a violation of civil law. By itself, it isn’t a crime, but the same actions that are a breach can also be a crime. For example, reckless driving is a breach of duty and a misdemeanor traffic offense. (C.R.S. § 42-4-14011)

To know if someone has a duty of care, consider several factors:

  • The risk involved
  • Foreseeability of injury
  • Likelihood of injury
  • Social utility of the actor’s conduct
  • The burden of protecting against the harm
  • Consequences of placing the burden upon the actor

Source: University of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54 (1987)2

According to Colorado Civil Jury Instructions 9:83, reasonable care is the degree of care that a reasonably careful person would use under the same circumstances.

A breach of duty is the basis for most car accident claims. When a person is driving on the road, they are in proximity to others, whether in other motor vehicles, passengers in the same car, or pedestrians. Operating a motor vehicle creates a risk of an accident and harm. Usually, breach of a legal obligation to reasonable care is what starts a car accident claim.

Professional standards are the basis for the duty that exists in healthcare. Medical malpractice is based on the training, experience, and attention that a reasonable professional should have in the same circumstances.

Examples of legal duty include:

  • Drivers have a legal obligation to follow speed limits and adapt to road conditions
  • A store owner must check for spills and clean them up in a reasonable amount of time
  • Doctors must follow procedures correctly when performing a surgery
  • An accountant has an obligation of care to prepare their client’s taxes accurately
  • Motorists must stop their vehicles when there are pedestrians in a crosswalk
  • Parking lot operators must provide adequate lighting and security

Negligence is one type of breach of duty. A breach can also result from willful and wanton conduct, recklessness, and intentional harm.

No. It’s not necessarily negligence every time that someone gets hurt. The occurrence of an accident doesn’t create a presumption that someone breached a duty of care. Negligence can be shown by the facts and circumstances of the accident. However, the accident itself doesn’t prove negligence, according to Colorado Civil Jury Instructions 9:124.

Under the law, the victim may have a personal injury claim when a breach of duty occurs. Bringing a personal injury claim is the way for the victim to receive financial compensation. However, victims must suffer damages to make a claim. They need to prove all the elements of the claim, including duty, breach of duty, causation of harm, and damages.

Whether a breach occurred is specific to each situation. To determine whether a violation of duty led to an accident, evaluate the facts, and compare them to the law. You must determine what happened and then apply it to legal standards.

In the Colorado case Observatory Corp. v. Daly, 780 P.2d 462 (1989)5, a person threatened, grabbed, and pushed another person in a bar. Later, someone purposefully hit someone else with their vehicle in the bar parking lot. The court ruled that the bar did not have a legal duty to protect the victim from vehicular assault under the circumstances.

The court said that the vehicular assault wasn’t foreseeable based on the earlier conduct inside the bar. Because it was not reasonable for the bar to know that the assault was about to occur, there was no duty of care to protect the victims from harm.

Proving a breach requires two steps:

  1. Showing what the person did.
  2. Explaining how their conduct amounted to a breach of their legal obligation.

A personal injury lawyer can help you present the facts and arguments to prove the existence of a duty and a breach of that duty of care.

SOURCES:

1C.R.S. § 42-4-1401 (2022)

2University of Denver v. Whitlock, 744 P.2d 54 (1987)

3Colo. Civ. Jury Instr. 9:8

4Colo. Civ. Jury Instr. 9:12

5Observatory Corp. v. Daly, 780 P.2d 462 (1989)