Duty Definition: legal obligation by a defendant to a plaintiff
Heaven v. Pender: anyone engaged in an activity that potentially places others at risk of harm presumptively has a duty to use reasonable care to minimize the risk.
Rule: When active, be reasonable
· not a requirement to eliminate all risk, just be reasonable
The Third Restatement DUTY RULE: An actor ordinarily has a duty to exercise reasonable care when the actor’s conduct creates a risk of physical harm
Judge balances Factors:
· The foreseeability of the harm to the plaintiff
· The degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury
· The closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered
· The moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct
· The policy of preventing future harm
· The burden to the defendant and the consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach
· The availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved
Scope of duty is limited to a foreseeable plaintiff – Palsgraf v Long Island RR.
· Even if the defendant breaches the standard of conduct and causes injury to a plaintiff, no liability will be found if plaintiff falls outside of “zone of foreseeability”
· To establish a duty, plaintiff must show defendant’s negligence created foreseeable risks of harm to persons in her position.
· Palsgraf v Long Island R.R.
o Helen Palsgraf standing on defendant’s railroad platform waiting for a train when she was injured by an explosion that caused a scale to fall on her.
o Court found no legal duty was owed by the defendant – defendant’s conduct not wrong in relationship to the plaintiff
o Because Palsgraf was not a foreseeable victim, she was outside of “zone of risk” and therefore no duty was owed
Nonfeasance: No action
· When a person does not create the risk that ultimately injured the plaintiff
· Still liable if you fall into these categories:
o Special Relationship
o Undertaking to Act
o Defendant who caused the plaintiff to rely on a gratuitous promise
EXAM: Find a way to move to misfeasance, where it is more clear to create a duty and therefore collect damages
· Ways to move to misfeasance: created the danger, contractual, rescue, special relationship
· Actor typically liable for affirmative acts that create an unreasonable risk of harm, but not for failure to act.
Misfeasance: Affirmative acts of misconduct
· Doing something a reasonable person would not do
· Failing to do something that a reasonable person would do while engage in an activity (risk creating omission)
· Duty To Rescue
o Rule: a person does not have a duty to aid another
§ Courts consistently refuse to require a stranger to render assistance, even where a person could have rendered aid with little risk/effort
§ Creating the Peril: when the need for rescue arises because of the defendant’s
relies on that protection
§ Examples: innkeeper/guest, jailor/prisoner, parent/child, school/student, hospital/patient, common carrier/passenger, employee/employer
o Landlord Duty to Protect
o Business Duty to Protect: Business/patron relationship alone does not establish a duty to protect. Courts typically require a high degree of foreseeability to establish duty
§ Usually requires the plaintiff to show evidence of “prior, similar incidents”
o Police Duty to Protect and the Public Duty Doctrine
§ Public Duty Doctrine: a government actor performing improperly is not usually liable to individuals harmed by misperformance, because any duty owed is limited to the public at large rather than to any specific individual
ú Some jurisdictions do not permit an individual harmed by fire department’s unreasonable failure to respond to recover
§ Police Duty: Typically not liable for failing to protect individual citizens
ú Most courts limit duty to situations where police undertook to act, created reliance of the plaintiff or increased the risk of harm to the plaintiff.
ú Riss v City of New York: no duty owed to plaintiff who told police of her boyfriend’s threats of physical harm, they did not come to her aid, and then she was physically harmed.