What is a Breach of Duty?
In Texas, personal injury cases require one party to prove the other party’s negligence led to their accident and subsequent injuries. Part of the process involves proving that the other party had a duty to the victim but failed to follow through with it, a concept known as breach of duty.
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Defining Breach of Duty
Breach of duty is a legal element in personal injury cases, specifically used to establish negligence. Simply put, breach of duty means that somebody had a duty to act in a certain way but failed to do so.
For example, when a driver gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, they have a duty to follow all rules of the road. Speeding through a red light is a breach of duty because the driver had a duty to maintain the legal speed limit and obey traffic signals.
Applying Breach of Duty to Personal Injury Cases
Texas law considers several elements in negligence cases: 1) duty; 2) breach; 3) causation; 4) damages. Victims, known as the plaintiffs, have to establish all of these elements to win the personal injury case. It helps to understand how the elements fit together to see why a breach of duty matters.
Define the Duty
First, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a duty to behave in a certain way. A duty is imposed by law, custom, or by virtue of the relationship between plaintiff and defendant. It’s important to know that the defendant’s duty could involve doing something or avoiding doing something.
For example, drivers have a duty to obey traffic laws and pay attention to the road.
Establish the Breach of Duty
Once the plaintiff shows that the defendant had a duty to act (or not act) in a particular way, they must establish a breach of duty. That is, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant failed to fulfill their duty.
A plaintiff proves this by showing that the defendant did not act in a way that a reasonably prudent person would have acted under the same circumstances.
Perhaps the defendant was behind the wheel of a vehicle and texting while driving. Or, maybe they exceeded the speed limit or ignored traffic signs and signals. All of these examples represent a breach of duty. A reasonable person would not text while driving, exceed the speed limit, or ignore traffic signs.
Further, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty caused their injuries. Causation can be complicated in Texas because the state considers two elements, cause in fact and proximate causation.
- Cause in fact, sometimes known as a “but for” causation, says that the victim would not be injured but for the defendant’s conduct.
- Proximate cause asks if the plaintiff’s injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s breach of duty.
Plaintiffs must establish both parts to win their case. Defendants often argue that even if there was a breach of duty, it wasn’t the cause of the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. They may attribute the accident to something else to shift blame.
Finally, the plaintiff must prove they experienced damages to recover compensation. Things like medical bills and lost wages tend to be easy to support with documentation, but some things, like pain and suffering, could be more challenging.
How to Prove Breach of Duty
Proving a breach of duty sounds like one of the easier elements in a negligence claim, but that’s not always the case. The plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the defendant failed to act and that they should have been able to foresee the negative consequences of that failure.
Returning to the examples listed above, driving a car requires people to pay attention and obey traffic laws. It’s widely accepted that traffic laws exist to keep others safe. Further, most reasonable people would say that paying attention while driving is necessary to prevent accidents.
How do you prove that the defendant wasn’t paying attention or obeying traffic laws? It depends on the situation, but usually, video footage and witnesses to the accident would help.
The intricacies of personal injury cases can be overwhelming, especially if you’re healing from injuries. Trying to track down video footage and witness statements take time, and there may be several legal issues involved in your case. It’s in your best interest to consult an experienced Houston personal injury attorney before taking any legal actions. Contact our Houston personal injury law office or call us at (713) 500-5000.