Misfeasance vs. Nonfeasance

Instructor: Ryan Futo
Everyone has legal duties to do what is right. In this lesson, you will learn the difference between misfeasance and nonfeasance and will be provided examples of each.

Misfeasance Vs. Nonfeasance

In tort law (or civil law), if someone commits an act which results in an injury the liability can fall upon that person. Welcome to misfeasance and nonfeasance, two terms used often during civil litigation. In this lesson, we will define these two terms, provide examples, review case law, and the liability that come with both. These terms may appear terrifying, but after looking at some examples, you will learn that they are large words which are actually submissive.

In order to be found liable in one of these cases, there is an essential four prong test that the plaintiff has to prove. The action has to have resulted in negligent, breach of duty, causation, and injury.

What is Misfeasance?

The root of the word feasance or faisance was taken from France. The French added 'mes' in front of it and call it mesfaisance . The French defined it as preforming misdeeds. The United States ultimatley adopted this act. They simply kept the same meaning and they call it misfeasance.

Misfeasance is used during civil litigation or court. It is merely defined as any act that is legal but performed improperly. Imagine that someone is text messaging and driving. They go off of the road, hit a telephone pole, and kill their best friend. Criminally they just committed involuntary manslaughter. They could be convicted, and sentenced to prison. The friend's family may seek civil liability and will claim misfeasance. Sending a text message and driving is not illegal (some states it is a misdemeanor traffic violation, but not federal law), but in civil court the driver will simply be found negligent in their actions in causing the death of another. The award of the law suit can range from several thousand to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

What is Nonfeasance?

Nonfeasance which is also used in civil court cases can be defined as the intentional failure to perform a required duty or obligation. To understand nonfeasance let's look at this example. A daycare worker has an infant on the changing table. The worker goes into the back room to get a drink of water leaving the infant. The infant falls off of the table and cracks his/her head open.

The daycare worker can be found liable of nonfeasance because he or she failed to do their job, which was to ensure the safety of that child or a group of children. The law suit filed in civil court can go directly against the worker. In addition to medical care, pain and suffering can and in most cases will be awarded to the family.

Case Study: Living Proof of Each

The first case we will look at comes out the Utah Supreme Court in Jeff V. West. Remember to keep in mind the four prong test of negligent, breach of duty, causation, and injury. David Ragsdale was convicted of the murder of his wife Kristy Ragsdale and sentenced to prison. They had two children ages four and nineteen months. The children's now caretaker, William Jeffs, sued David Ragsdale's doctor Trina West.

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