Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A claim of professional negligence and the "reasonable person" standard of liability.

Practice point:  In order to determine whether there is  liability, a jury must compare the defendant's conduct to that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances.  Where the case consists exclusively of facts whose significance could be readily understood by laypersons, the jurors are expected to apply their ordinary judgment and practical experience in order to determine what a reasonably prudent person would have done under the particular circumstances of the case, and whether the defendant deviated from that standard of care.

However, New York recognizes a subtle distinction between this general "reasonable person" standard and the standard to be applied when a defendant with special training or experience in a trade or profession acted in that capacity.  A person who undertakes to render services in the practice of a profession or trade will be held to the level of skill and care used by others in the community who practice the same profession or trade.  A claim of professional negligence requires proof that there was a departure from the accepted standards of practice and that the departure was a proximate cause of the injury.

The degree of skill and care that must be exercised may be established through evidence of the general customs and practices of others who are in the same business or trade as that of the alleged tortfeasor.  This may be established by presenting the testimony of an expert who has demonstrated knowledge of the relevant standards of care in the trade or profession at issue.  Such expert testimony is admissible not only to explain highly technical medical or surgical questions, but also to clarify a wide range of issues calling for the application of accepted professional standards.

Student note:  In tort cases, a threshold question is whether the alleged tortfeasor owed a duty of care to the injured party, and the existence and scope of the duty is a question of law. 

Case:  Abrams v. Bute, NY Slip Op 01627 (2d Dep't 2016)

Here is the decision.

Tomorrow's issue:  The doctrine of spoilation.