Breach is a legal term or art that means “to break” or “failing to abide”. This term of art can be used in several areas of the legal field, including contract law, tort law, and criminal law. Specifically in tort law, breach of duty refers to when one person acts or fails to act according to a legal or moral duty.
Additionally, the breach of a duty is the second element in a claim for negligence that must be proven for a claimant to prevail in their cause of action. Below is a list of all the elements a claimant would need to prove in order to prevail in their claim:
- Defendant owed Claimant a duty of care;
- Defendant breached the duty of care;
- The breach caused the Claimant’s injury; and
- The Claimant suffered harm or damage as a result
Black’s Law Dictionary further states that, when a person or an entity breaches their duty, they “neglect or [fail] to fulfill in a just and proper manner the duties of an office or fiduciary employment”. Simply put, if a person or an entity “breaches” their duty, they have either done (or failed to have done) something they are supposed to do under the circumstances. This act or failure to act will typically result in harm done to another person, which will give rise to a cause of action under tort law.
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How Do You Know If You Have a Duty to Someone?
What would then qualify as a duty that a person could breach? Surprisingly, everyone has a duty at some point under certain circumstances. Tort law typically defines “duty” as a standard of care to which a person or an entity is legally bound. Generally, the basic standard of care for everyone is to act as a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-2.
However, the duty is based on the parties involved. The list below encompasses several examples of duties based upon the specific persons or entities that are parties to a claim:
- Customer and Grocery Store: The Grocery Store’s duty to their customer is to maintain a safe premises and make any risks aware to their customer.
- Guest and Homeowner: The Homeowner’s duty to an invited Guest is to make sure their house is safe for that Guest and any known risks must be made aware to that invited Guest.
- Patient and Doctor: The Doctor owes a duty to their patient to use the same degree of care that is practiced by other competent doctors within that field under the same or similar circumstances.
- Passenger and Transportation Service: Under Georgia law, the Transportation Service’s (or “common carrier”) duty is to use extraordinary diligence to protect the lives and persons of its passengers. O.C.G.A. § 46-9-1.
If any of the above persons or entities failed in any of the above duties, they would be considered “in breach” of their duty.
Breach of Duty Scenario
Here is an example of how breach of duty works:
Dory invites Patty over to her house for a ladies’ luncheon. Dory forgets to place a sign on her front door warning any visitor not to ring the doorbell due to an electrical malfunction, which electrocutes anyone who even touches the doorbell. Patty walks up to Dory’s front door and rings the doorbell, immediately sending an electrical shock through Patty’s body, causing her to pass out.
Since Dory is a homeowner she has a special duty to any guests at her house. Dory’s duty in the above scenario would have been to fix the doorbell or warn any visitor of its malfunction, warning them not to touch the doorbell. Dory failed to put such a notice on her front door and did not even warn Patty verbally of the malfunction; thus, Dory breached her duty that she owed to Patty.
Of course, Patty would also need to prove causation and that she suffered damages due to the breach of Dory’s duty to prevail in her claim of negligence against Dory, but the focus of the above scenario is to explain how a duty is breached under the given circumstances.
A Final Word on Breach of Duty
Remember, almost everyone has a duty at some point on a daily basis. Without a duty, there can be no breach. And without a breach, a claimant will most likely not prevail in their claim; but note, you still have the burden to prove causation and damages too.