The “Duty” Element of a Virginia Personal Injury Case

When someone is injured due to the alleged negligence of another, the injured party may be able to pursue a claim for compensation under the legal theory of negligence. To succeed in a negligence claim, a plaintiff must be able to establish four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.

The “duty” element is easily met in many Virginia personal injury cases, especially those involving injuries that occurred as a result of a car accident. This is because all Virginia motorists have a general duty to safely operate their vehicle within the confines of the law. However, in other contexts, a plaintiff must present evidence establishing that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

A recent federal appellate opinion illustrates the concept of a legal duty. In that case, the plaintiff was a truck driver who was injured when another employee allegedly ran over his foot while loading the plaintiff’s truck with a forklift. The forklift, which was owned by the plaintiff’s employer, did not have a back-up alarm. The plaintiff’s employer had contracted with the defendant maintenance company to perform all necessary maintenance on the machine, including preventative maintenance.

Evidently, the forklift was serviced by the defendant a few months before the accident. While the defendant’s employee who worked on the forklift could not remember if the machine had a back-up alarm previously installed, it was later determined that the machine did not have a back-up alarm. After evaluating the forklift, the employee who worked on the forklift made no mention to the plaintiff’s employer that a back-up alarm should be installed.

The plaintiff filed a claim against the defendant maintenance company, asserting that the company was negligent for failing to warn the plaintiff’s employer of the dangers of operating a forklift without a back-up alarm.

The Court’s Decision

The court began its analysis by noting that, in the context of a failure-to-warn case, the plaintiff must present evidence showing that the defendant had greater knowledge of the harm that caused the plaintiff’s injuries in order to establish that a duty was owed. The court concluded that the plaintiff’s case should be dismissed because the plaintiff failed to present evidence that the defendant owed him a duty of care.

The court concluded that the plaintiff presented no evidence that the defendant was aware of the dangers in operating a forklift without a back-up alarm. The court noted that the forklift was not equipped with a back-up alarm when it left the factory and never had an alarm installed on this particular unit. Thus, the court explained that the back-up alarm was optional safety equipment and that a maintenance company does not have a duty to recommend optional safety equipment to owners.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of accident, you should contact the dedicated Virginia personal injury lawyers at Charles, B. Roberts, P.C. At Charles B. Roberts, we represent injury victims in all types of Virginia personal injury cases, including those involving dangerous machinery and heavy equipment. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you have sustained, call 703-491-7070 to set up a free initial consultation today. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you recover for the injuries you have sustained.

See More Blog Posts:

Employer Liability in Virginia Motor Vehicle Accidents, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 14, 2019.

Court Determines Plaintiff’s Misuse of Product Precludes Subsequent Product Liability Lawsuit, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 11, 2018