CACI No. 600. Standard of Care

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2020 edition)

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600.Standard of Care
[A/An] [insert type of professional] is negligent if [he/she/nonbinary
pronoun] fails to use the skill and care that a reasonably careful [insert
type of professional] would have used in similar circumstances. This level
of skill, knowledge, and care is sometimes referred to as “the standard of
care.”
[You must determine the level of skill and care that a reasonably careful
[insert type of professional] would use in similar circumstances based only
on the testimony of the expert witnesses[, including [name of defendant],]
who have testified in this case.]
New September 2003; Revised October 2004, December 2007, May 2020
Directions for Use
Use this instruction for all professional negligence cases other than professional
medical negligence, for which CACI No. 501, Standard of Care for Health Care
Professionals, should be used. See CACI No. 400, Negligence - Essential Factual
Elements, for an instruction on the plaintiff’s burden of proof.The word “legal” or
“professional” should be added before the word “negligence” in the first paragraph
of CACI No. 400. (See Sources and Authority following CACI No. 500, Medical
Negligence - Essential Factual Elements.)
Read the second paragraph if the standard of care must be established by expert
testimony.
See CACI Nos. 219-221 on evaluating the credibility of expert witnesses.
If the defendant is a specialist in a field, this instruction should be modified to
reflect that the defendant is held to the standard of care of a specialist. (Wright v.
Williams (1975) 47 Cal.App.3d 802, 810 [121 Cal.Rptr. 194].) The standard of care
for claims related to a specialist’s expertise is determined by expert testimony. (Id.
at pp. 810-811.)
Whether an attorney-client relationship exists is a question of law. (Responsible
Citizens v. Superior Court (1993) 16 Cal.App.4th 1717, 1733 [20 Cal.Rptr.2d 756].)
If the evidence bearing upon this decision is in conflict, preliminary factual
determinations are necessary. (Ibid.) Special instructions may need to be crafted for
that purpose.
Sources and Authority
• “The elements of a cause of action in tort for professional negligence are (1) the
duty of the professional to use such skill, prudence, and diligence as other
members of his profession commonly possess and exercise; (2) a breach of that
duty; (3) a proximate causal connection between the negligent conduct and the
resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage resulting from the professional’s
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negligence.” (Budd v. Nixen (1971) 6 Cal.3d 195, 200 [98 Cal.Rptr. 849, 491
P.2d 433].)
• “Plaintiffs’ argument that CACI No. 600 altered their burden of proof is
misguided in that it assumes that a ‘professional’ standard of care is inherently
different than the standard in ordinary negligence cases. It is not. ‘With respect
to professionals, their specialized education and training do not serve to impose
an increased duty of care but rather are considered additional “circumstances’
relevant to an overall assessment of what constitutes “ordinary prudence” in a
particular situation.’ ‘Since the standard of care remains constant in terms of
“ordinary prudence,” it is clear that denominating a cause of action as one for
“professional negligence” does not transmute its underlying character. For
substantive purposes, it merely serves to establish the basis by which “ordinary
prudence” will be calculated and the defendant’s conduct evaluated.’ ” (LAOSD
Asbestos Cases (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 1022, 1050 [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 261], internal
citation omitted.)
• “ ‘In addressing breach of duty, “the crucial inquiry is whether [the attorney’s]
advice was so legally deficient when it was given that he [or she] may be found
to have failed to use ‘such skill, prudence, and diligence as lawyers of ordinary
skill and capacity commonly possess and exercise in the performance of the
tasks which they undertake.’ . . .” . . .’ ” (Blanks v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP (2009)
171 Cal.App.4th 336, 357 [89 Cal.Rptr.3d 710].)
• “[I]f the allegedly negligent conduct does not cause damage, it generates no
cause of action in tort.” (Moua v. Pittullo, Howington, Barker, Abernathy, LLP
(2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 107, 112-113 [174 Cal.Rptr.3d 662].)
• “[T]he issue of negligence in a legal malpractice case is ordinarily an issue of
fact.” (Blanks, supra, 171 Cal.App.4th at p. 376.)
• “ ‘[T]he requirement that the plaintiff prove causation should not be confused
with the method or means of doing so. Phrases such as “trial within a
trial,” “case within a case,” . . . and “better deal” scenario describe methods of
proving causation, not the causation requirement itself or the test for determining
whether causation has been established.’ ” (Knutson v. Foster (2018) 25
Cal.App.5th 1075, 1091 [236 Cal.Rptr.3d 473].)
• “Plaintiffs argue that ‘laying pipe is not a “profession.” ’ However, case law,
statutes, and secondary sources suggest that the scope of those held to a
‘professional’ standard of care - a standard of care similar to others in their
profession, as opposed to that of a ‘reasonable person’ - is broad enough to
encompass a wide range of specialized skills. As a general matter, ‘[t]hose
undertaking to render expert services in the practice of a profession or trade are
required to have and apply the skill, knowledge and competence ordinarily
possessed by their fellow practitioners under similar circumstances, and failure to
do so subjects them to liability for negligence.’ ” (LAOSD Asbestos Cases,
supra, 5 Cal.App.5th at p. 1050.)
• “It is well settled that an attorney is liable for malpractice when his negligent
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investigation, advice, or conduct of the client’s affairs results in loss of the
client’s meritorious claim.” (Gutierrez v. Mofid (1985) 39 Cal.3d 892, 900 [218
Cal.Rptr. 313, 705 P.2d 886].)
• “[A] lawyer holding himself out to the public and the profession as specializing
in an area of the law must exercise the skill, prudence, and diligence exercised
by other specialists of ordinary skill and capacity specializing in the same field.”
(Wright, supra, 47 Cal.App.3d at p. 810.)
• “To establish a [professional] malpractice claim, a plaintiff is required to present
expert testimony establishing the appropriate standard of care in the relevant
community. ‘Standard of care “ ‘is a matter peculiarly within the knowledge of
experts; it presents the basic issue in a malpractice action and can only be
proved by their testimony [citations] . . . .’ ” [Citation.]’ ” (Quigley v. McClellan
(2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1276, 1283 [154 Cal.Rptr.3d 719], internal citations
omitted.)
• “California law does not require an expert witness to prove professional
malpractice in all circumstances. ‘In professional malpractice cases, expert
opinion testimony is required to prove or disprove that the defendant performed
in accordance with the prevailing standard of care [citation], except in cases
where the negligence is obvious to laymen.’ ” (Ryan v. Real Estate of the
Pacific, Inc. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 637, 644-645 [244 Cal.Rptr.3d 129].)
• “Where . . . the malpractice action is brought against an attorney holding
himself out as a legal specialist and the claim against him is related to his
expertise as such, then only a person knowledgeable in the specialty can define
the applicable duty of care and opine whether it was met.” (Wright, supra, 47
Cal.App.3d at pp. 810-811, footnote and internal citations omitted.)
• “The standard is that of members of the profession ‘in the same or a similar
locality under similar circumstances’ . . . . The duty encompasses both a
knowledge of law and an obligation of diligent research and informed
judgment.” (Wright, supra, 47 Cal.App.3d at p. 809, internal citations omitted;
but see Avivi v. Centro Medico Urgente Medical Center (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th
463, 470-471 [71 Cal.Rptr.3d 707] [geographical location may be a factor to be
considered, but by itself, does not provide a practical basis for measuring similar
circumstances].)
• Failing to Act Competently. Rules of Professional Conduct, rule 3-110.
Secondary Sources
1 Witkin, California Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Attorneys, § 288
4 Witkin, California Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Pleadings, § 593
6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 1124, 1125,
1128-1131
Vapnek, et al., California Practice Guide: Professional Responsibility, Ch. 1-A,
Sources Of Regulation Of Practice Of Law In California-Overview, ¶ 1:39 (The
Rutter Group)
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Vapnek, et al., California Practice Guide: Professional Responsibility, Ch. 6-E,
Professional Liability, ¶¶ 6:230-6:234 (The Rutter Group)
1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 1, Negligence: Duty and Breach, § 1.31
(Matthew Bender)
3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 30, General Principles of Liability of
Professionals, §§ 30.12, 30.13, Ch. 32, Liability of Attorneys, § 32.13 (Matthew
Bender)
7 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 76, Attorney Professional Liability,
§§ 76.50, 76.51 (Matthew Bender)
33 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 380, Negligence, § 380.50
(Matthew Bender)
2A California Points and Authorities, Ch. 24A, Attorneys at Law: Malpractice,
§ 24A.20 et seq. (Matthew Bender)
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