What is Nonfeasance? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Briana Frenzel

Briana has master's degrees in criminal justice and social work, including teaching college level criminal justice coursework and experience as a social worker in the field.

This lesson reviews the legal definition of nonfeasance, provides an overview of the three criteria that must be met to be considered nonfeasance, and provides several examples.

Lori was so excited to get to do the tumbling section of physical education class. Her best friend Ava was in gymnastics the past three years and could do handsprings and other amazing moves, and Lori wanted to be able to do them too. When the time finally came for tumbling, Mr. Murphy, the physical education teacher, talked about the moves they would be learning and had the students start practicing before the lesson began while he went to the restroom. Lori decided to start with a move she had never tried before and performed it incorrectly, falling to the ground and twisting her ankle. When Mr. Murphy came back in the classroom, he found Lori on the ground crying. Lori was brought to the school nurse and her parents were contacted. Her parents brought her to the hospital for x-rays. While riding to the hospital, Lori overheard her dad saying a word she had never heard before: nonfeasance.

Definition of Nonfeasance

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nonfeasance as the failure to do what ought to be done. Legally, it goes a step further by recognizing that this intentional inaction caused harm. While this statement may seem simple, tort law requires three different criteria be met to be recognized as nonfeasance:

a) the person who is responsible for not acting would be the person expected to act,

the same person who did nothing is the one expected to do something

b) the person did not act as expected, and

there was an appropriate action expected by that person, and it did not occur

c) not acting caused harm.

because the action did not occur, there was an injury.

Examples of Nonfeasance

Consider the scenario described above. In this scenario, Mr. Murphy is responsible for providing the instruction and monitoring for student safety. He did not do either before expecting the students to engage in the activity leading to Lori's injury.

All three criteria must be met to be considered nonfeasance.

As such, many opportunities for nonfeasance occur in relation to professional responsibility. For example, medical professionals, education and emergency support personnel typically have expectations of action. This fulfills a portion of the first criteria, with responsibility for inaction also necessary. A medical professional who is the first person on the scene of an accident is expected to stop and assist. If they are unaware of the accident, such as a car driving over a cliff, their responsibility for inaction would come into question. In regard to medical injury, people without training do not have an expectation of action.

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