A duty to act is a legal duty requiring a party to take necessary action to prevent harm to another person or to the general public. In personal injury law, an individual may be held to a standard of reasonable care to prevent injury or harm.

A duty to act is often imposed under a statute or from a contractual relationship. Examples include:

  • A doctor’s duty to care for patients
  • An owners’ duty to protect those who are invited upon his land
  • A restaurateur’s duty to provide proper fire escapes for patrons
  • Parent’s duty to act affirmatively to safeguard his children and safeguard third persons from his children

Unless there is a statute or contract creating the duty, there will usually be no duty to act. However, a duty may arise when a person voluntarily assumes responsibility for another.

Omission to Act

A person can be liable even if there was no explicit duty to act. Examples:

  1. If someone is drowning in a pool and you make an attempt at rescuing them, the act of trying to help will create a duty to act to complete the rescue. Therefore, if one gives up rescuing a victim and thereby leaves the victim in a worse situation, they may be found liable.
  2. A duty that otherwise would not exist might also be self-imposed if one is the cause of the situation resulting in the victim’s position of danger. Therefore, if your actions cause the dangerous situation, you will have a duty to act.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are faced with a lawsuit or believe you might have breached a duty to act it is best to get in touch with a lawyer. Determining liability for another person’s injuries can be difficult. A personal injury lawyer can explain any potential liability you might encounter.