From Volume 79, Number 2 (January 2006)
“Duty” occupies an odd place in contemporary negligence law. On the one hand, it is hornbook law that duty – along with breach, actual and proximate cause, and injury – is one of the elements of a plaintiff’s prima facie case. As the first element of a plaintiff’s case – and the only element whose existence is a matter of law for the court – duty seems to stand out even among the elements of the prima facie case. If a plaintiff cannot establish that the defendant was under a duty to exercise at least some care to ensure that its actions did not impose an unreasonable risk of injury on the plaintiff, then we need not ask if the defendant breached its duty of care and if that breach was the actual and “proximate” cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Duty, in short, seems important.