The public duty doctrine is a rule which provides that in order for an injured person to recover in tort against a public entity or an officer or employee thereof, he must show the breach of a duty owed to him as an individual and not merely the breach of a duty owed to the public as a whole. In the absence of such a private duty owed to the injured person, there is no liability for the failure to enforce a statute or to provide protection or services that are intended to benefit only the general public. Although the public duty doctrine has long been recognized as a defense in tort litigation against public entities and their officers and employees, its use and application have been overshadowed by the much broader defense of sovereign immunity as well as the immunity for discretionary functions. The public duty doctrine is one of the principles that developed in connection with the law of personal liability of public officials that was carried over into the law of liability of the sovereign. Now that the great majority of States are no longer protected by sovereign immunity and have consented to at least some liability for torts, the public duty doctrine has assumed new importance in the defense of tort actions against public entities. Traditionally, the doctrine has had its broadest application in the area of police and fire protection and also in building and safety inspection cases. The defense has not been raised as frequently in highway litigation, but the potential for doing so exists. The principal purpose of this paper is to consider this potential in light of the decided cases in order to alert highway lawyers of the existence of the public duty doctrine as a defense in tort suits arising from State highway activities.

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  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Page range: 1868-N1 through 1868-N47. Distribution, posting, or copying of this PDF is strictly prohibited without written permission of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials in this PDF are copyrighted by the National Academy of Sciences. Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Authors:
    • Nellis, K G
  • Publication Date: 1991-11


  • English

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00621561
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: Addendum 5
  • Files: TRIS, TRB
  • Created Date: Aug 26 1998 12:00AM