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What is Duty of Care?

April 17, 2023

Washington’s insurance laws for all types of personal injuries require proving liability on the part of the person at fault for the injury. To prove liability, the circumstances of any injury must meet specific requirements. Unlike criminal cases where the standard of evidence requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, personal injury lawsuits require showing fault only by a preponderance of the evidence in a case.

In a comparative negligence state like Washington, plaintiffs in a personal injury claim must prove liability on the part of the person at fault. A large part of this requires showing that the defendant had a duty of care owed to the plaintiff and that they breached this duty. But what does it mean to have a “duty of care?”

What is Duty of Care?

Understanding Duty of Care in Personal Injury Cases

In all circumstances, people have an obligation to take reasonable precautions to avoid causing injury to others. In legal terms, this is their “duty of care” to keep others safe. A good example of this obligation is the duty that all drivers have to keep other motorists on the road safe by following traffic laws, avoiding distractions, and refraining from consuming alcohol before driving. If a driver breaches their duty of care through an act of negligence—such as failing to check a blind spot before changing lanes—or through wrongdoing—such as drinking and driving, they fail in that duty, leaving them liable for any injury caused by their act of negligence, recklessness, or purposeful wrongdoing.

In some circumstances, professionals may owe a more specialized duty of care. For instance, a doctor owes patients a duty of care to treat them according to the accepted standards of the medical community. A business owner owes a special duty to prevent injury to customers by maintaining their premises in a way that promptly addresses and corrects any hazards. Breaching these specialized duties results in legal liability.

The Tenets of Legal Liability

In order to make a successful claim for damages after a preventable injury caused by another party’s negligence, the injury victim must prove legal liability. Typically, an experienced Seattle personal injury attorney knows how to address legal liability with provable evidence from a thorough investigation of the accident that caused the injury.

If you’ve been in any preventable accident caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, proving liability requires providing evidence-backed proof of the following:

  • That the defendant owed you a duty of care to take reasonable precautions to keep you and others safe
  • That they breached that duty of care by acting in a negligent manner or with recklessness or purposeful wrongdoing
  • That the negligent breach directly caused your injury
  • That the injury caused you real economic and non-economic damages.

How an Attorney Proves Liability

An attorney with a strong history of success understands how to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the accident or incident that resulted in your injury in order to clearly identify the at-fault party and establish that they had a duty of care to use reasonable care to keep you and other safe and that it was their negligence that resulted in your injury and damages. This type of investigation typically involves the following:

  • Reviewing police reports or accident reports
  • Reviewing any photos or videos of the incident from dash cams, traffic cameras, surveillance videos, or personal videos from cell phones
  • Interviewing eyewitnesses
  • Gathering medical evidence of your injury and related medical expenses
  • Using expert testimony from medical professionals and accident reconstruction specialists when required

Once an attorney has investigated the circumstances of your injury and proven liability, they can craft a compelling case for full compensation for your damages. Damages may include medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. The amount of compensation typically depends on the severity of the injury.

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