Duty of Care in California Personal Injury Cases

Civil Code section 1714, subdivision (a) states, "Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself . . . . " The California Supreme Court stated, "In other words, 'each person has a duty to use ordinary care and "is liable for injuries caused by his failure to exercise reasonable care in the circumstances."'" (Cabral, supra, at p. 771; Parsons v. Crown Disposal Co. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 456, 472 quoting Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 112 .) In Cabral, our Supreme Court stressed, "In the absence of a statutory provision establishing an exception to the general rule of Civil Code section 1714, courts should create one only when 'clearly supported by public policy.'" (Cabral, supra, at p. 771 quoting Rowland, supra, 69 Cal.2d at p. 112.) The California Supreme Court explained, "By making exceptions to Civil Code section 1714's general duty of ordinary care only when foreseeability and policy considerations justify a categorical no-duty rule, we preserve the crucial distinction between a determination that the defendant owed the plaintiff no duty of ordinary care, which is for the court to make, and a determination that the defendant did not breach the duty of ordinary care, which in a jury trial is for the jury to make." (Cabral, supra, at p. 772.) In Cabral, our Supreme Court summarized the Rowland factors in determining duty of care: "In the Rowland decision, this court identified several considerations that, when balanced together, may justify a departure from the fundamental principle embodied in Civil Code section 1714: 'the forseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant's conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.'" (Cabral, supra, at p. 771 quoting Rowland, supra, at p. 113; accord Castaneda v. Olsher, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 1213.) We must evaluate the Rowland factors at a broad level of factual generality. (Cabral, supra, at p. 772; Campbell v. Ford Motor Co. (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 15, 27.) For instance, as to foreseeability, "The court's task in determining duty 'is not to decide whether a particular plaintiff's injury was reasonably foreseeable in light of a particular defendant's conduct, but rather to evaluate more generally whether the category of negligent conduct at issue is sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm experienced that liability may appropriately be imposed. . . .'" (Cabral, supra, at p. 772 quoting Ballard v. Uribe (1986) 41 Cal.3d 564, 573 fn. 6.)