Negligence and The Standard of Care

Madeleine Jones
October 7, 2016

The typical negligence lawsuit, and in many ways any lawsuit (to learn about a strict liability lawsuit click here), requires the plaintiff to prove four things: (1) the defendant owes a minimum duty of care to the plaintiff; (2) that duty was violated by the defendant; (3) which caused (4) harm to the plaintiff. The standard of care is the measure by which the defendant is judged. It determines that level of responsibility the defendant was expected to adhere to and is based upon the type of negligence alleged. If you or a family member was seriously injured due to the lack of standard of care, contact a Las Vegas personal injury lawyer at Cogburn Law today for a free case consultation.

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infographic_The Standard of Care in Negligence Lawsuits

Mostly, the standard of care draws a line in the sand; those behaviors that fall beneath that level of care are deemed negligent, and the defendant is liable for the resulting damage it caused.

The “Reasonable Person” Standard of Care

When a negligence lawsuit is brought, one of the first areas of analysis is how the “reasonably prudent person” would have behaved under like circumstances and conditions.

For example in a typical car accident, society assumes that the driver who rear-ends the other driver is liable for the damage. A reasonably prudent driver is under a duty to not hit other cars. However, the analysis changes if the driver did everything she could to avoid the accident and only hit the other car because the brakes failed.

The next level of analysis is then on whether or not the brakes received proper care. Did the driver behave in a reasonably prudent manner by paying for regular maintenance? If she did, the court then considers the culpability of the mechanic. Eventually, the analysis will arrive at a party who failed to meet the required standard of care and is thus liable for the harm that resulted.

Finally, this standard of care does not take into consideration an individual’s particular education, intelligence, or capability.

However, certain professionals are held to an enhanced standard of care.

Medical Standard of Care

Professionals (i.e. doctors, lawyers, accountants, brokers, etc.) are held to a higher standard of care when they are executing their professional duties. The classic example is the medical standard of care.

The reasonable person standard of care is designed to assume the absolute “average” person. This standard works because all people are presumed equal in their ability to behave reasonably in everyday life. However, doctors and professionals enjoy disproportionate power over “average” people . Therefore, they are held to a higher standard to reflect their enhanced responsibility.

Doctors are held to the same standard of care that a reasonably competent doctor would provide under the circumstances. Historically, doctors were held to a “regional” standard, i.e. they were compared only with other doctors in the same region. However, with the proliferation of nationally-known medical schools, national medical associations, and standardized levels of care, most doctors are now held to a “national” duty of care.  Additionally, if a doctor is specialized, she is compared to reasonably competent doctors in the same specialty.

Standard of Care in Business Establishments

Businesses that, as part of its business model, regularly invite members of the public into its establishment are under a duty of care to make the area reasonably safe. That means that owners must ensure that reasonable dangers are discovered and corrected.

For instance, a grocery store is liable for any slip and falls that were due to a reasonably discoverable spill. As an example, if there is a spill that the grocery store knew about (i.e. because someone told an employee) or would have discovered if it had a policy that would have led to its discovery, then the grocery store is liable for the injury.

However, if the spill was recent, i.e. it occurred right before the fall, then the grocery store is not liable because it could not have discovered it.

Standard of Care for Children

Finally, children are also held to a different standard of care. It wouldn’t be fair to hold children to the same standard as adults, therefore, they are held to the behavior of a reasonable child of similar age, intelligence, and experience under similar circumstances. Unlike the standard of care for adults, children are held to a variable standard that changes for each child based on his age, intelligence, and experience.

While this standard applies to the vast majority of a child’s conduct, there are a few exceptions, notably, whenever a child is engaging in an ‘adult-like’ activity. The classic example is driving a car. Children are widely held to the same standard of care as adult drivers.

Finally, it is possible that the standard of care for a 16 or 17-year-old teenager will be largely the same as the one to which adults are held. The closer the child reaches adulthood, the more “adult-like” the standard of care.