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The Duty to Warn About Others’ Dangerous Conduct

GENERALLY, CALIFORNIA LAW IMPOSES NO DUTY TO WARN ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON’S CONDUCT OR PROPENSITIES (BUT MANY EXCEPTIONS EXIST).

As a general rule, California law does not require people to issue warnings about the actual or potential conduct of others. However, like many legal rules, the lack of a duty to warn about others’ conduct is subject to many exceptions–and additional ones may be created (or existing exceptions expanded) at any time.

“SPECIAL RELATIONSHIPS” OFTEN CREATE A DUTY TO WARN ABOUT ANOTHER PERSON’S CONDUCT OR PROPENSITIES.

Where a legally-recognized special relationship exists between two or more people (or between a person or persons and a business or other legal entity) that relationship may give rise to a duty to warn third parties about the actually or potentially hazardous conduct of another. For example, medical personnel and caregivers may have a duty to warn third parties about the dangerous propensities of a person in their care. Sometimes, the duty requires only a warning, though in some cases the law imposes a duty to act to prevent harm or injury–a warning alone will not suffice.

People who share a legally recognized special relationship with someone who may have dangerous propensities or present a risk of harm to others should consult an attorney for an evaluation of their legal duties, to ensure they comply with legally-mandated obligations.

BOTH MISFEASANCE AND NONFEASANCE CAN POTENTIALLY RESULT IN LIABILITY FOR THE ACTS OF ANOTHER.

“Nonfeasance” means a failure to warn or otherwise intervene to help prevent an injury. Generally speaking, nonfeasance does not result in liability for harm resulting from the action of another person unless the defendant shared a legally recognized special relationship with the person who caused the harm or unless some other law or legal principle required the defendant to intervene, warn, or act to prevent the injury.

“Misfeasance” refers to an action the defendant takes which makes the plaintiff’s injury worse (or, in appropriate cases, makes the injury more likely to occur). Generally speaking, a defendant whose actions make the plaintiff more likely to suffer injury, or exacerbate the injury suffered, may be legally liable for negligence even without a special relationship to the person who actually caused the plaintiff’s injury. This is because the defendant’s action was a contributing cause of the harm, rather than merely a failure to prevent an injury caused by another.

The foregoing is a highly simplified version of the law of misfeasance and nonfeasance. Many fact-specific statutes and legal principles impact negligence liability in this area, especially when a plaintiff claims the injury resulted from a failure to warn about the harm presented by a third party’s acts or propensities. If you have suffered an injury, or have been accused of causing or increasing someone’s injuries due to a failure to warn, consult an attorney immediately for a personalized evaluation of your potential rights and legal claims (or defenses). Do not rely on this or any other article as a substitute for personalized legal advice.

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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 claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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