Duty of care is a concept in the law of negligence in tort. It is based on the reasonable person principle and can be broken down into two aspects:

  • Whether an individual must take precautions to protect other individuals and;
  • What level of safeguarding is required.

One of the classic cases, and one that often arises, is related to digging a hole in the sidewalk. It is clear in this example that;

  • The person digging the hole owes a duty to all probable users of the sidewalk; and
  • The person digging the hole must take precautions to avoid having someone fall into the hole, even if they are inattentive, intoxicated, or a minor.

However, such a duty of care would not be absolute. An individual owes no duty to someone who should not be reasonably using the sidewalk (such as the driver of an automobile), and need not protect against harm caused to someone who is themselves reckless.

A duty of care may differ depending on the relationship between the individuals. For example, a storekeeper owes a fairly high duty of care to a person who is in the store shopping (a licensee) and anyone eles in the store on legal business (an invitee). However, a lesser duty is owed to a trespasser.

A duty of care can be wide or narrow. An engineer may be liable in negligence for anyone harmed by a structure they designed, such as when it collapses. However, a doctor is most likely only liable to harm done directly to a patient.