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Understanding The Duty Of Care


The existence of a duty of care is a threshold requirement for negligence claims.

Unless a duty of care exists, and unless the defendant owes that duty to the plaintiff who suffered injury, there can be no valid negligence claim. This is true regardless of the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries or the damage caused by the defendant’s actions.

Sometimes, injuries or damages occur in circumstances where the person responsible for the damage did not owe a duty of care to the injured plaintiff. Although the defendant may have acted in a way many people would consider inappropriate, if there is no legally recognized duty of care, there can be no valid negligence claim.

That said, many people do not understand the nature and extent of the various duties of care imposed by California law. Do not ever attempt to evaluate your legal rights and claims on your own. Always obtain the counsel of an experienced attorney if you suffer injuries or believe you may have a legal claim against someone else.



In California, people have a basic duty to behave reasonably, which includes the general duty to exercise “reasonable care” when engaging in ordinary activities or maintaining and using property.

California law also imposes an affirmative duty to prevent harm to others in certain circumstances. Some of these circumstances are established by statutes (like the civil and business codes), while others are recognized as a result of legal precedents (judges’ decisions in court cases).

The existence or non-existence of a duty is an issue of law, which means it is decided by a judge (the court), not the jury.

When evaluating the existence of a duty, courts may use a variety of factors, including the existence of statues creating a duty, the foreseeability of harm resulting from the activity in question, the social usefulness of the activity that caused the harm, any risks associated with the activity (and their severity), the feasibility and cost of imposing a duty on the defendant (or on other defendants in similar cases), whether or not insurance is available to guard against the risks and type of harm the plaintiff suffered, “moral considerations,” and the identity and relationship of the people involved in the incident or harm. The court can also consider other relevant factors.

Analysis of the relevant duties (and whether or not the defendant owed and/or broke them in the plaintiff’s case) may require significant legal analysis. If you suffered injury or property damage, do not attempt to evaluate your claims on your own. Talk with an experienced lawyer promptly, as delay may damage your claims (or even cost you your right to recover at all).


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW 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. Most legal claims (and defenses) 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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