The outcomes of some negligence cases depend on whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff. Such a duty arises when the law recognizes a relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff, and due to this relationship, the defendant is obligated to act in a certain manner toward the plaintiff. A judge, rather than a jury, ordinarily determines whether a defendant owed a duty of care to a plaintiff. Where a reasonable person would find that a duty exists under a particular set of circumstances, the court will generally find that such a duty exists.
In the example involving the defendant loading bags of grain onto a truck, and striking a child with one of the bags, the first question that must be resolved is whether the defendant owed a duty to the child. In other words, a court would need to decide whether the defendant and the child had a relationship such that the defendant was required to exercise reasonable care in handling the bags of grain near the child. If the loading dock were near a public place, such a public sidewalk, and the child was merely passing by, then the court may be more likely to find that the defendant owed a duty to the child. On the other hand, if the child were trespassing on private property and the defendant did not know that the child was present at the time of the accident, then the court would be less likely to find that the defendant owed a duty.
Breach of Duty
A defendant is liable for negligence when the defendant breaches the duty that the defendant owes to the plaintiff. A defendant breaches such a duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. Unlike the question of whether a duty exists, the issue of whether a defendant breached a duty of care is decided by a jury as a question of fact. Thus, in the example above, a jury would decide whether the defendant exercised reasonable care in handling the bags of grain near the child.
Cause in Fact
Under the traditional rules in...