Understanding the Duty of Care and Liability in Contracted Work

Duty, causation, breach, and damages…what do these four little words mean to you? They could mean everything if you are litigating a claim of negligence because these terms represent the elements that must be satisfied in order to successfully prove your case. Negligence suits have historically been analyzed using these four elements and it is important to note that if a plaintiff fails to prove even one element of his claim, he loses on the entire tort claim.

The duty of care refers to the circumstances and relationships which the law recognizes as giving rise to a legal duty to prevent foreseeable harm from occurring to others. A failure to take such care can result in the defendant being liable to pay damages to a party who is injured or suffers loss as a result of their breach of duty of care. The idea of establishing a duty played a pivotal role in, Bloxom v. The City of Shreveport, a highly controversial case taking place in DeSoto Parish in 2010.

In Bloxom v. City of Shreveport, David McFarlin, the president of Blue Phoenix Trading Company interviewed Brian Horn for a cab driver position. Horn, who had previously served time on a conviction for a felony of sexual assault and was a registered sex offender, was hired by McFarlin and drove a cab marked “Action Taxi.” In March of 2010, Horn posed as a young female and lured a young boy into his cab; Horn later murdered the boy and dumped his body in a wooded area off Hwy. 171 in DeSoto Parish. Horn is currently awaiting trial for capital murder. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother filed a wrongful death suit against both David McFarlin, individually, and his Blue Phoenix Trading Company. More information as it relates to the facts of this case and on the capital murder charge can be found here.

As it pertains to the wrongful death suit, the question for the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals was whether McFarlin owed a personal duty to the parents of the son to protect him from the risk of assault at the hands of a cab driver whom he had employed. The Court employed what is referred to as a duty-risk analysis to resolve McFarlin’s liability under La. C.C. art. 2315. The analysis, as laid out in Lemann v. Essen Lane Daiquiris Inc., comprises five elements:

(1) does the defendant have a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard (the duty element); (2) did the defendant’s conduct fail to conform to the appropriate standard (the breach element); (3) was the defendant’s substandard conduct a cause in fact of the plaintiff’s injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) was the defendant’s substandard conduct a legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries (the scope of liability or scope of protection element); and (5) were there actual damages (the damage element).

In applying these principles to the Bloxom case, the Court found that McFarlin had no personal duty in the matter. The Court reasoned that imposing personal liability on McFarlin for the torts of his employees would frustrate the benefit of the business organization and that, although a corporation may be liable for the sexual assaults of its employees under La. C.C. art. 2320, this is not the same as imposing personal liability on officers. Further, the Court concludes that a corporate officer making a hiring decision is primarily acting on behalf of his or her company and that he or she owes duty of reasonable care does not extend to all torts that all employees might commit.

Remember, though, that a breach of duty is not limited to professionals or persons under a written or oral contract; all members of society have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward others and their property.

So if think you have be injured or wronged due to an act of negligence, contact the Berniard Law Firm, providing the best experts in diagnosing breaches of duty and identifying the cause of damages.