Personal injury cases take many forms, including car accidents, premises liability, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse or neglect, construction accidents, dog bites, and product liability. Depending on the type of personal injury case, most claims involve an allegation of negligence, which requires the plaintiff to prove four core elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
The duty of care is the bedrock of every personal injury claim based on negligence. Generally, if the plaintiff cannot prove that the defendant owed them a duty of care, the case will be unsuccessful in court.
Personal injury attorneys have extensive knowledge of the law surrounding the duty of care and understand its importance. They assist injury victims by thoroughly investigating their cases and uncovering and documenting critical evidence they need to prove all elements of their case including the duty of care in an Illinois lawsuit.
For over 26 years, Drake & Collopy, P.C. has provided compassionate and aggressive legal representation to injury victims. They have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of innocent victims in personal injury cases in Chicago and throughout Illinois. They have recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of personal injury victims and their families.
What Are the Elements of a Personal Injury Case?
Some types of personal injury cases are based on “strict liability”. This means that once the elements of the particular claim are proven, the defendant is “strictly” liable. These include dog bite cases, some product liability claims, and dram shop claims. As mentioned, however, most personal injury claims are based on the legal theory of negligence. When the plaintiff, e.g., the injury victim or their family, files a lawsuit based on negligence, they claim the at-fault party should have acted a certain way but failed to do so. The victim additionally claims this failure caused them to suffer injuries.
In legal terms, there are four essential elements in most personal injury cases based on negligence:
- Duty of care. The at-fault party owed the plaintiff a duty of care under the circumstances.
- Breach of duty of care. The at-fault party failed to meet this duty of care.
- Causation. The at-fault party’s breach of their duty of care caused an accident or injury.
- Damages/Injury. The plaintiff suffered financial, physical, and/or psychological harm because of the defendant’s breach of duty.
The plaintiff must prove each element to have a valid claim.
Duty of Care
The duty of care is the at-fault party’s obligation to act reasonably prudent under the circumstances. Everyone owes a fundamental duty of care to others, and this duty changes based on the situation and the at-fault party’s position. For example, someone’s duty of care while driving a car differs from when they host guests at their house.
Breach of Duty of Care
The second element of a personal injury case is the breach of duty of care. The plaintiff must show that the at-fault party failed to meet their duty of care to the plaintiff. For example, doctors breach their duty of care if they prescribe an antibiotic to a patient despite a clear warning in a patient’s chart that they are fatally allergic to that antibiotic.
The plaintiff must prove that there is a causal connection between the accident and injury. They may accomplish this by showing that the at-fault party’s conduct directly and proximately caused harm to the plaintiff.
For example, the plaintiff could show that they suffered a severely broken arm in a car accident that the at-fault party caused. However, other cases are not as clear. For example, if the plaintiff had preexisting conditions or injuries, it becomes more difficult to prove that the plaintiff’s condition was significantly worsened as a result of the accident.
Finally, the plaintiff must show that they suffered actual damages because the at-fault party failed to abide by their duty of care. In a personal injury case, the damages fall into one of two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages include medical bills, property damage, and loss of income. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering and loss of a normal life.
Why Is the Duty of Care Important in a Chicago Personal Injury Case?
The duty of care is vital to any personal injury claim based on negligence. It speaks to the heart of what went wrong and, when it is breached, inspires victims to pursue justice.
For example, when doctors make egregious errors and harm their patients, the victims and their families are rightfully upset. Doctors are obligated to do no harm and act within the scope of generally accepted medical practices in treating and diagnosing patients. When this does not happen, the victim and surviving family members seek compensation for the harm that was caused.
The Duty of Care Lays the Foundation for the Rest of the Personal Injury Case
The duty of care is essential because it lays the foundation for the rest of the personal injury case. If the at-fault party does not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, the court will most likely dismiss the plaintiff’s case against the named at-fault party. The injury victim would then likely have no recourse.
If the basis of the injury claim is negligence (and most are in some respect), the plaintiff must prove all four elements to have a valid claim: duty, breach, causation, and damages/injury. Without a duty of care, there cannot be a breach, causation, or injury.
The Duty of Care Informs the Scope of the Breach and Cause Attributable to the Defendant
Another critical aspect of the duty of care in a personal injury case is the link between it and the other elements. Someone can owe another a duty of care and breach it but be found blameless for the plaintiff’s injuries and their case.
The duty of care informs the scope of the impact of the potential breach and the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, drivers must act responsibly while on the road by following traffic laws and being careful. When both drivers owe and fail to meet duties to each other, this can impact the compensation available to the plaintiff.
How Does the Duty of Care Change in Different Cases?
In most situations, people owe a general duty to those around them to act as reasonably prudent people. What that looks like in practice changes depending on the circumstances. A statute or ethical code may impose specific duties on someone, or their background may alter the duty they owe to others.
Seasoned personal injury attorneys have the knowledge and resources to argue the exact duty owed in a particular case. They understand the importance of the duty of care in proving the remainder of the case.
Drivers must follow traffic laws, including posted speed limits, and make careful decisions about driving. The factors surrounding the accident determine the specific duty in that case.
For example, driving up to 55 miles per hour on a stretch of road may be legal, but it may not be safe in cases of extremely low visibility. In a white-out snowstorm, what the drivers’ duty of care looks like in practice is much different than for a sunny day on the same road. If the at-fault driver was driving in a manner that was technically legal but unsafe for the conditions, this could be evidence of a breach.
Premises liability cases arise when someone suffers an injury on the property of another. Examples of common premises liability cases include slip and falls, dangerous conditions on the premises, and construction accident claims. Property owners have different duties of care depending on the reason the plaintiff was on the property.
Under Illinois law, landowners owe a minimal duty of care to adult trespassers. For example, landowners must not directly or indirectly cause harm to trespassers by setting up traps to harm them. Landowners have a duty to protect child trespassers from some foreseeable risks created by conditions on the property. However, with respect to invitees, property owners have a duty of care to take reasonable actions to remedy dangerous or defective conditions on the property that they are aware of and that pose an unreasonable risk of harm to the plaintiff.
In medical malpractice cases, victims can bring a claim against a healthcare provider for failing to meet the standard of care in providing treatment to the patient. Victims and surviving family members may bring claims against a doctor, nurse, hospital, psychiatrist, nursing home facility, dentist, or any other person practicing a healing art in Illinois. Because of the specialized knowledge of the at-fault party, these cases can be fact-intensive and require expert testimony.
Healthcare providers owe a duty to patients to conduct themselves in a way that aligns with generally accepted medical practices, known as the standard of care. The plaintiff may call expert witnesses to explain what a reasonable healthcare provider would have done in the scenario leading to the patient’s injury. Because of the healthcare provider’s unique knowledge and particular position, their duty of care differs from that of others.
Product liability cases may be brought under a strict liability theory and/or a negligence theory. As in other cases, the duty of care in a given product liability case based on negligence can be the subject of much debate. The defendant’s role in the manufacture, distribution, or sale of the product can significantly impact whether they are liable for the underlying injury to the plaintiff.
For example, a pharmaceutical company has a different level of liability involving the quality and safety of the products than that of the pharmacy that sells the drugs. The pharmaceutical company must perform tests, apply for approvals, and ensure the drug is safe. The pharmacy has a more limited duty based on its role in the process, i.e., to fill prescriptions, heed recalls, and sell the drugs to consumers.
Drake & Collopy, PC: Chicago Personal Injury Attorneys You Can Trust
Our attorneys practice exclusively in the area of personal injury law, which gives us extensive experience and knowledge in this area of law. We understand the challenges victims face and put our skills and knowledge to work to achieve the best outcome in their cases. We have over 50 years of combined experience advocating for countless injury victims in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois.
If you or your loved one suffered a personal injury, call the team at Drake & Collopy, P.C. today at 312-766-9619 to schedule a no-obligation consultation.