Personal Injury Lawsuits: Understanding “Duty of Care”
Victims injured due to the negligence of others have the right to pursue personal injury lawsuits which can allow them to recover financial compensation for their damages, and hold the responsible party accountable for their negligent acts. While every case is unique and will involve its own set of particular circumstances, prevailing in a negligence-based personal injury lawsuit does require victims to prove a few general elements. This includes, among others:
- Duty of Care – In terms of negligent lawsuits, “duty of care” refers to the legal obligation a defendant owed the injured victim. In order for any personal injury case to have merit, a duty of care must have existed between the defendant and the victim.
- Breach of Duty – When it can be shown a defendant did owe a duty of care to the person they injured, victims must further prove the defendant failed to provide that care in a reasonable fashion. This generally means they failed to uphold their legal obligations as a result of negligence.
- Damages – Victims must prove the defendant’s failure to meet their duty of care more likely than not resulted in damages for which the defendant should be held liable. Damages vary in every case, but generally refer to the economic and non-economic losses which flow from the defendant’s negligence, such as a victim’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, emotional suffering, future medical needs, and more.
Establishing the existence of a duty of care, how a defendant breached that duty, and how it resulted in damages are critical aspects of a personal injury lawsuit. How this can be achieved, however, will depend largely on the unique facts of a case, as duty of care can vary depending on the circumstances involved and the relationship between the defendant and the victim. In some cases, it can be as straightforward as demonstrating how a motorist has a legal obligation to safely operate their vehicle, and take reasonable steps to reduce risks of harm to those around them. In other cases, such as medical malpractice, a duty of care can vary depending on the type of treatment provided. For example, the duty of care medical professionals owe patients whom they treat proactively during visits, examinations, and when interpreting tests or symptoms may be different from the duty doctors owe patients when treating them in emergency situations.
Florida addresses the issue of determining the existence of a legal duty by adhering to what is known as the “foreseeable zone of risk” standard. This standard exists because Florida courts have ruled that when a person’s conduct foreseeably creates a broader zone of risk that what exists for the general public, it creates a duty that person must uphold in order to prevent harm to people within that risk zone.
The concept of a foreseeable zone of risk can be applied to many different circumstances and is especially useful in cases where a duty of care may be disputed by defendants or not readily apparent. For example, one notable Florida case found a municipality liable for a car accident which was caused by a police officer who was pursuing another vehicle in a negligent manner – even though the police car was not itself involved in the wreck. Another case from the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the daughter of a patient had the right to file suit against the patient’s doctor for failing to inform her that she could be tested for a disease which her mother had. As the court held, the daughter would be within the foreseeable zone of risk for the reason that the doctor had been treating the mother, and knew the mother’s disease would likely be passed on to her daughter.
At Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin, our West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers have dedicated their professional careers to fighting on behalf of injured victims across Florida. Throughout that time, we’ve handled numerous cases involving serious injuries caused by the negligence of another, and have accumulated the experience and insight to effectively address issues involving duty of care, foreseeability, and our client’s damages as they relate specifically to their situations. Because this element of a personal injury lawsuit is case-specific, we encourage anyone who has questions about a recent accident and their rights to contact our firm for a free case evaluation.