Legal Memorandum: The Voluntary Undertaking Doctrine

Issue: What is the standard of care owed by one who undertakes to provide protection of a person or his things?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Protection to persons or things; Standard of care; Negligence
Jurisdiction: Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A(b)
Date: 05/01/2007

One of the principal legal theories underlying this type of negligence claim is stated at Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if


(a)    his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or


(b)   he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or


(c)    the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person on the undertaking.


See Evans v. Otis Elevator Co., 168 A.2d 573, 575-76 (Pa. 1961) (“If a person undertakes by contract to make periodic examinations and inspections of equipment . . . he should reasonably foresee that a normal and natural result of his failure to properly perform such undertaking might result in injury not only to the owner of the equipment but also to third persons, including the owner’s employees.”); Knight v. Otis Elevator Co., 596 F.2d 84, 89-90 (3d Cir 1979) (where a party has  undertaken to perform periodic inspections and a defect or dangerous condition injures plaintiff, […]

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