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Duty in Torts

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Duty in Torts

Before there is negligence, there must be a duty.

Personal injury lawyers frequently work within the realm of negligence-based tort laws. Torts can be defined as: “… an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm to another and amounts to a civil wrong for which courts impose liability.” In order for tort liability to exist, the tortfeasor (the actor that caused the harm) must have a duty owed toward the injured party, and that duty must have been violated.

Duty in tort law can sometimes be difficult to define. The burden to prove that a duty existed typically falls on the injured party, or Plaintiff. Duty can be derived from various sources. These sources include common law (case law), special relationships, written laws, rules or regulations, and public policy.

Without duty, a defendant is not liable for an injury that the plaintiff received. The most common source of duty in tort laws arises from caselaw and is frequently referred to as a duty of care. Caselaw, also known as common law, is law that is derived from previously decided court cases that have been published. Most caselaw is written by appellate or supreme courts, either at the state or federal level.

Some tort duties in Arizona deriving from caselaw include:

1. A driver’s duty to drive with reasonable care. (
2. A city’s duty to keep its streets in a reasonably-safe condition ( .
3. A duty to keep one’s domestic animals from harming others. Restatement (second) of Torts
4. A bar’s duty to avoid over-serving a bar patron. (
5. A medical professional’s duty to act reasonably toward their patient. ( (This is an example of a duty that derives from a special relationship.)

Arizona recognizes a duty of reasonable care toward others to avoid injury. In other words, a person must act like a reasonable person when conducting himself in everyday life. If he doesn’t and someone is injured, he failed that duty, and he is likely liable for the other person’s injury.

Duty that derives from rules or statutes can be more clear-cut but isn’t always so. For example, in Tucson, the duty to keep sidewalks safe has been transferred to the adjacent property owner, rather than the city that built the sidewalk. This means that if there is a sidewalk in front of your home that needs repair, you, as the homeowner, may owe a duty to a pedestrian passing by.

Duty can be a tricky concept in all but the most common of negligence cases. Thankfully, caselaw is always evolving to reflect the modern world in which we live. Once duty is established, the Plaintiff must also prove they were injured and prove the causal link between the failed duty (negligence) and that injury.

The Rockafellow Law Firm has over four decades of experience in the always evolving Arizona tort law. Contact us today to review your case.

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