The concept of care or one’s duty to ensure care has been an existing legal concept for quite a while, even decades. It is also a familiar term in the medical world at the professional level. However, in recent years, the same concept has extended to care, counseling, education, and even childcare as more and more regulations are put into place for all of these different fields. More attention is being given to how people perform duty of care related services for other people.
Duty of Care Law and Responsibilities
In short, a duty of care in a particular function means that the performing person or entity has a responsibility that is higher or more stringent than the average person to make sure things are working correctly per a law, regulation, or policy. For example, a chief financial officer and the head accountant of a corporation have a fiduciary duty to protect the financial assets of the organization from fraud, waste, misuse, and conversion. If they willingly or even negligently allow these things to occur, these people can face a punishment that is more severe than anything an average person would face knowing about a problem and doing nothing to correct it.
In the legal world, the duty of care standard is a major target and defense. Depending which side is making a claim, the issue will focus on whether the party involved knew about the duty of care, was trained in the matter, was expected to apply that duty, and failed to do so. Where a plaintiff can argue there was a failure that could have been avoided and caused a harm, that argument can turn into financial damages or even criminal penalties in some cases. Where the company or organization can show such criteria was met, the plaintiff loses the case and has to go away.
Where Duty Comes From
Every profession has some kind of standard for a duty of care. In the field of education, school administrators and teachers have a duty to education and protect the children they are in charge of. This element of childcare duties is embedded both in their performance and in metrics on how many children they educate as well as how successful they are at achieving that education. No surprise, the issue of standardized tests, for example, can be very tense because it is often used as a benchmark measurement of how a teacher is doing achieving education goals. School officials also have a protection due to make sure that children are harm-free, not exposed to negative elements while on campus and learning, and provided help and support as soon as an issue is identified instead of ignored. Unfortunately, the last part is often where school officials get in trouble because deferring or delaying response to a complaint is commonplace in overworked schools.
The failure to perform is exactly what a trial court will then hinge its decision on when a complaint turns into a legal lawsuit. If a case can be proven, either to a judge or jury, that school officials failed to do their jobs as specified, then they can be liable to legal damages. In most cases, the punishment is levied against the school district in question. However, there are instances where the individual involved can also be held personally responsible as well.
What is Negligence?
Negligence cases are common in organizations and entities where management doesn’t apply the necessary proactive attention to train, monitor and respond to problems that involve a failure to meet a duty of care. In many cases, laws and regulations actually include increased penalties to act as a deterrent, in order to make sure that officials do their jobs right. As a result, where the duty of care has been met, the courts often give wide latitude to officials in doing their jobs. After all, they are the professionals licensed to do the work, not the judge or lawyers. However, where it is proven the official did know and still failed to meet a requirement, the courts tend to have very little mercy.
For example, a police officer has a duty of care to do his job, follow procedure, uphold and defend the laws of his jurisdiction and protect its citizens. Where it is found the officer willingly abused the authority of his badge for corruption, he is very likely not just going to lose his job, but the officer could serve jail time as well, depending on the situation. That said, proving such cases can be extremely hard in some professions because the evidence needs to be overwhelmingly accurate.
So the more one looks at the matter, despite all the laws and rules, the conclusion is going to be that there isn’t one overriding default definition of duty of care. It doesn’t exist in the legal world, and it definitely doesn’t exist in the professional world. Yet everyone agrees there is often a level of expectation of a higher than average performance from someone who is trained and licensed to do a particular job. This provides the basis of a negligence claim when there is failure.
How Negligence is Applied
Negligence itself is not just the fact that a trained person didn’t do something as desired. There has to be specific elements of failure included for a negligence complaint to be taken seriously and reacted to by the courts. Generally, there are four key elements that need to be in place to achieve a claim of negligence. These are:
- There was a specified duty of care expected from a person.
- The standard of care was generally defined.
- The person, knowing the above, did not meet, failed or violated the duty of care.
- Someone or something was harmed by the action or omission of meeting the duty of care.
The specified duty criteria is needed to ensure that the people responsible have been clearly told what their duty is. This may be in the form of a law, a regulation, an education requirement, a training, a manual, a written policy or some other form. Whatever, the medium, there is an objective resource that can be pointed to that can be used to show the party should have known based on reading and understanding the communication.
The standard of care involves the clear criteria or requirement of what is expected. Again, using our police officer example, officers have a duty of care to protect their community and serve the city by enforcing its laws and codes. They know this through written manuals, training, and policies. The standard is clear and available for anyone to read. It is not arbitrary or hidden.
The act involves a person who met the above two elements acting or failing to act in such a way that the expected standard of care was not met. An officer who failed to stop a criminal running by him from a bank robbery in the next building because he wanted to finish his lunch is a clear failure to act on duty.
A harm can be an injury to a person or a loss of property. It can also be a loss of opportunity or interest. Both people and property can suffer loss that can then be recovered, at least financially, in a punishment rendered by the court.
Again, knowing a duty of care exists and holding someone accountable to it is a big leap. Administratively and legally, professionals under a duty of care have a wide range of authority to make their decisions. Complaints about their performance need to be detailed, specific, and either very egregious in one instance or show a clear pattern of intentional disregard on the other.