CACI 600 Standard of Care

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

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.]

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 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 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)
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)