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“Special Relationships” in Negligence: Businesses and Doctors

By law, the existence of a “special relationship” can create a duty for businesses and individuals to behave in a certain manner toward others, including (but not limited to) their customers and clients. 

Whether you own a business or were injured due to someone else’s negligence, it’s important to understand when and how these legally-recognized “special relationships” are created, and when they exist. Here are a couple of situations in which the law recognizes the existence of special relationships, and the duties they create:

Businesses Owe Customers a Duty To Guard Against Foreseeable Criminal Acts.

Generally, California businesses have a duty to protect their customers, and others who enter the business premises, against foreseeable criminal acts. This duty applies not only to the business location, but also to adjacent parking lots, entries, and common areas. Moreover, the duty applies to anyone who enters the premises, whether or not that person is a paying customer of the business.

All businesses must take “reasonable and minimally burdensome” steps to prevent criminal acts against customers and others, which generally includes calling police if the owner or employees witness a crime. The specific steps a business is legally obligated to take will vary depending on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the nature of the business, its hours of operation, and the likelihood of criminal activity occurring on or near the business premises. The primary factor is “foreseeability,” though the severity of the potential harm is also relevant.

Business owners should take steps to ensure they know the extent of the duties applicable to their businesses, and ensure that they take proper measures to prevent, and protect their customers (and others) against potential harm.

Physicians Have a Duty to Warn of Patients’ Dangerous Propensities (In Proper Circumstances)

Although physicians have a duty to preserve patient confidentiality, in certain circumstances physicians  may also have a duty to warn foreseeable potential or intended victims about a dangerous patient’s propensities. This is particularly true where a patient’s medication or medical issues render the patient a serious, clear and present danger to others. While it is impossible to cover the situations where this might apply in depth in an online article, physicians (including psychotherapists) should consult an experienced attorney and ensure they understand when they should (and legally should not) warn others about a patient’s potentially dangerous conduct.


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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