California law may impose additional duties and a stricter standard of care depending on whether a special relationship exists between the defendant and the plaintiff. Read on to learn more.
How Negligence is Affected by Special Relationships
In California, if you have been injured due to the fault of another person or entity, your negligence claim can be affected by the existence of a special relationship between you and that potentially negligent party.
To better understand how the existence of a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant can change the dynamics of a negligence lawsuit, it’s important to understand the basics of a general negligence claim. In California, a negligence claim requires that:
1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
2) the defendant breached this duty by failing to adhere to the standard of care required of a reasonable person given the circumstances; and 3) the plaintiff suffered harm that was substantially caused by the defendant’s breach of the duty of care. The existence of a special relationship can result in a stricter standard of care (i.e., the defendant may be held to a higher standard in terms of how they conduct themselves), or may even result in the imposition of new, affirmative duties towards persons belonging to the same class as the plaintiff.
Stricter Standard of Care
California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI) 600 outlines the rule providing for an alternate standard of care in situations where the defendant is a “professional” and the plaintiff has a relationship with the defendant based on the defendant’s professional status.
Pursuant to CACI 600, a defendant-professional will be found negligent if he or she fails to use the skill and care that a reasonably careful similar professional in the same industry would have used in similar circumstances. This standard of care will be established based on the testimony of expert witnesses.
It is the duty of professionals in California — when acting in the scope and course of their profession — to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as other members of their profession ordinarily exercise. If a professional fails to adhere to this heightened standard of care, he or she may be found liable for negligence.
Defendants must generally satisfy a standard of care that a person of ordinary prudence, and charged with comparable duties, would exercise under the same circumstances. For example, a child supervisor might be expected to exercise a greater degree of care in their position than a supervisor of high school students
The existence of a special relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff can also give rise to additional, affirmative duties.
For example, manufacturers in product liability negligence cases owe their buyers/users an affirmative duty of assistance and protection. This affirmative duty is founded on the existence of a special relationship between the manufacturer and their buyers/users.
School districts are also saddled with affirmative duties. Thanks to the special relationship that exists between a school district, its students, and the families of the students, the law imposes an affirmative duty on school districts to take necessary and reasonable steps to prevent harm to their students. Similarly, the teachers in a school district also have a statutorily imposed duty to maintain a safe environment for the students.
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