Special-Duty Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Special duty doctrine is a principle of Torts law which makes a governmental entity like a state or municipality liable for an individual plaintiff's injury provided the entity owes a duty to the plaintiff and not to the general public. Once a duty to act for the protection of others is voluntarily assumed, due care must be exercised even though there was no duty to act in the first instance. The doctrine applies only when the plaintiff has reasonably relied on the governmental entity's assumption of the duty. This is an exception to the public duty doctrine which says government owes duties to the public at large rather than individuals.

The special duty doctrine serves as a vehicle to overcome municipal immunity. When a plaintiff successfully demonstrates that a defendant owes an injured party a special duty, a plaintiff can recover against a municipality in a negligence claim. [Roe v. Sperlik, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31260 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2005)]