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Negligence in “Special Relationship” Cases

Most Negligence Cases Require the Breach of a Legal Duty by the Defendant.

The elements of a general negligence cause of action are:

1. The existence of a legal duty.

2. The defendant’s breach or violation of that legal duty (either through an affirmative action or by failing to act when action was required).

3. Causation – meaning that the defendant’s breach of his (or her, or its) legal duty was the legally recognizable cause of harm to the plaintiff.

4. The plaintiff suffered damages.

Normally, people (and business entities) are not required to take action to prevent other people from suffering harm in the absence of a legally-recognized duty. Legal duties to protect others may arise as a result of affirmative conduct (often, conduct that creates a risk of harm to others), by statute, or in other ways. However, in the absence of a legal duty, people are generally not required to spend time, effort, or money attempting to avoid or prevent others from suffering harm or injury.

Special Relationships Between People (or Between People and Businesses) May Create or Result in an Affirmative Duty to Protect Individuals Against Harm or Injury.

The law imposes a legal duty of action on people and businesses where a “special relationship” exists between those people (or entities) and others. Special relationships may be formed, or created, in a variety of ways, including:

— by statute (by law)

— by contract

— by “detrimental reliance” on someone’s actions, words, or promises.

If you own a business, or own or manage real property, you may have a special relationship with your customers, invitees, and others who do business with you or enter upon your land. Homeowners often have special relationships with people who enter their properties, and adults may have special relationships with minors under their care (whether or not they intended to be responsible for the minors’ safety).

If you engage in business, or own property, consult an attorney to ensure that you understand the various special relationships your conduct may create, and that you (and your employees and contractors) are taking proper care to comply with any legally recognized duties those relationships create.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Negligence and premises liability claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against a property owner who permitted or failed to repair a dangerous condition, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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