Due care is a legal standard that establishes a duty for people to act in a reasonable manner based upon the circumstances of a particular situation. This means that a person’s conduct must not cause unreasonable harm to anyone else. Some jurisdictions use the terms ordinary care and reasonable care interchangeably with due care. The standard of due care is often used as a legal element in negligence cases. Negligence is a legal claim that allows one person to recover compensation for an injury or loss that some other person may have caused.
To prove negligence generally, a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit must show that a defendant had a duty to exercise due care to protect the plaintiff from an unreasonable risk of harm. A plaintiff must also prove that defendant failed to meet the duty and that the failure was the actual cause of the injury. The plaintiff must show that he or she suffered a physical injury or an injury to property.
The duty to exercise due care only arises when an injury is considered foreseeable, i.e., can be reasonably anticipated. For example, a motorist has a duty to drive safely. If the driver is talking on a cell phone and crashes into a pedestrian crossing the street, the driver has violated a legal duty. The pedestrian can file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver because a pedestrian trying to cross a street is a foreseeable plaintiff. A reasonable person could foresee a risk of injury while using a cell phone behind the wheel.
To decide whether a person is exercising due care, the law requires a judgment based on what an ordinary and reasonable person would do under the same circumstances. An reasonable person would take measures to prevent or minimize harm from occurring to anyone. The duty to prevent harm does not arise for plaintiffs that are not foreseeable to a reasonable person. The actions of a reasonable person is based upon what that person knows, perceives, and common knowledge.
To illustrate, a person who owns a handgun must exercise due care on how the gun is safeguarded. An ordinary and reasonable person would know that a gun is potentially dangerous. If children live in or regularly visit the household, the owner should know that children might get the gun and play with it. If a child gains access to the gun and accidentally shoot him- or herself or another person, the gun owner may have failed to exercise due care by not properly safeguarding the weapon.