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What is Due Care?

By Christopher John
Updated May 16, 2024
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Due care is a legal standard that establishes a duty for people to act in a reasonable manner based upon the circumstances of a particular situation. This means that a person’s conduct must not cause unreasonable harm to anyone else. Some jurisdictions use the terms ordinary care and reasonable care interchangeably with due care. The standard of due care is often used as a legal element in negligence cases. Negligence is a legal claim that allows one person to recover compensation for an injury or loss that some other person may have caused. 

To prove negligence generally, a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit must show that a defendant had a duty to exercise due care to protect the plaintiff from an unreasonable risk of harm. A plaintiff must also prove that defendant failed to meet the duty and that the failure was the actual cause of the injury. The plaintiff must show that he or she suffered a physical injury or an injury to property. 

The duty to exercise due care only arises when an injury is considered foreseeable, i.e., can be reasonably anticipated. For example, a motorist has a duty to drive safely. If the driver is talking on a cell phone and crashes into a pedestrian crossing the street, the driver has violated a legal duty. The pedestrian can file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver because a pedestrian trying to cross a street is a foreseeable plaintiff. A reasonable person could foresee a risk of injury while using a cell phone behind the wheel.

To decide whether a person is exercising due care, the law requires a judgment based on what an ordinary and reasonable person would do under the same circumstances. An reasonable person would take measures to prevent or minimize harm from occurring to anyone. The duty to prevent harm does not arise for plaintiffs that are not foreseeable to a reasonable person. The actions of a reasonable person is based upon what that person knows, perceives, and common knowledge.

To illustrate, a person who owns a handgun must exercise due care on how the gun is safeguarded. An ordinary and reasonable person would know that a gun is potentially dangerous. If children live in or regularly visit the household, the owner should know that children might get the gun and play with it. If a child gains access to the gun and accidentally shoot him- or herself or another person, the gun owner may have failed to exercise due care by not properly safeguarding the weapon.

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Discussion Comments

By Telsyst — On Mar 09, 2014
@certlerant -- You're right. The legal definition of negligence is vague, at best, most likely in an effort to uncover wrongdoing that could potentially be harmful or deadly.

Negligence often overlaps with other charges, like malpractice, and lines can be blurred when confidentiality and other business or individual rights come into play.

There have been cases where publishers of media geared toward followers of specific political or ethnic groups have been targeted in criminal negligence lawsuits,

In these cases, prosecutors claimed those publications did nothing to step in when readers showed that their articles were inciting violence, instead of peaceful protest.

Here, the First Amendment right guaranteeing freedom of the press is pitted against a citizen's understood responsibility to abide by the law.

By Certlerant — On Mar 09, 2014

Negligence does not just apply for people seeking monetary damages related to a personal injury or wrong. There are many instances where negligence charges are filed in criminal court, as well.

A good example of this is criminally negligent homicide. A person or corporation can be charged with a role in a murder without any actual knowledge that a death has occurred.

Pharmaceutical companies, doctors and hospitals can easily fall prey to these sort of charges if the prosecutor can prove that they knew that a drug they manufacture and sell or a component of their patient care was faulty or had unintended side effects but did nothing to warn the public or address the underlying problem.

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