Nonfeasance is the intentional inaction to perform an act required of one’s position or office. The inaction causes harm to a person or damage to property or goods. A person who is found to have willfully failed to perform their duty as required of their position, or by law, can be found liable for the harm or damages caused and risk prosecution in a court of law.
For example, a doctor has a legal obligation to provide medical care to his patient. If an accident victim is wheeled to the hospital, the medical personnel at the hospital are required to provide medical attention to the patient immediately.
If the doctors fail to attend to the patient in time and the patient succumbs to their injuries, the doctors are considered to have committed nonfeasance, and they can be prosecuted because they have a duty to provide immediate first aid, and they failed to take urgent action as required.
Nonfeasance is an intentional failure to perform a duty or obligation that one is required to perform.
In some states and countries, a person found liable for nonfeasance carries severe penalties, and the perpetrators risk prosecution.
Nonfeasance is similar to misfeasance, which is the intentional performance of an inappropriate act.
Criteria for Nonfeasance
When a person is considered to have willfully failed to perform his/her duty, the action must meet certain criteria to be considered nonfeasance. The law of tort requires the following three criteria to be satisfied to be considered nonfeasance:
1. The person who failed to act is the person who would be reasonably expected to act.
2. The person did not take the appropriate action as expected. It means that the person who was expected to act did not take appropriate action as required by law, their position, or office.
3. The person’s inaction caused harm. It means that by the person not taking action, there was an injury to a person or damage to property.
Most cases of nonfeasance occur in relation to professional responsibility. Medical professionals, emergency personnel, physical education trainers, etc. have a responsibility to act in their routine functions. Such professionals are responsible for any inaction that causes harm to another person.
For example, a physical education teacher is expected to train and monitor students as they exercise to make sure they follow the provided instructions. If the teacher leaves students to train on their own without being monitored, he/she will be responsible for any injuries inflicted on the students since he/she is responsible for overseeing safe physical training.
Similarly, a doctor at an accident scene is required to stop and assist any injured persons. If the doctor passes by the accident scene without offering first aid to the injured, he/she will be responsible for inaction.
An important component of nonfeasance is causation, which is also the third criterion of nonfeasance. The harm or damage that exists must be linked directly to the inaction of the person who is supposed to do something.
For example, the accident victim bleeding out while lying on the ground due to the doctor’s failure to provide immediate first aid is the harm caused by the doctor’s inaction. Had the doctor stopped to offer first aid, it could have helped stop the bleeding before the patient could be rushed to a hospital.
Nonfeasance in Human Resource
Human resource personnel holds an important position in any organization, and they are required to act in situations where their inaction would make the company liable for any harm caused to an employee. Issues such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, verbal harassment, and timecard falsification should be acted upon as soon as they are reported.
For example, when a female intern writes to the human resource department to report sexual harassment by senior staff, the human resource personnel in charge must take action to remedy the situation as soon as they are made aware of the behavior.
The law requires companies to address reports of sexual harassment promptly either through fines or lawsuits against the named person. If the inaction of the human resource personnel causes the employee to be injured, the HR Department will be liable for the harm and risks prosecution.
Nonfeasance vs. Misfeasance
Nonfeasance and misfeasance are terms used during civil litigation. Nonfeasance is the intentional failure to execute a duty required of a given position or office. A person is found liable for nonfeasance because their inaction caused harm to another person or damage to goods.
On the other hand, misfeasance refers to the intentional performance of an inappropriate act or giving inappropriate advice to a person. Although the actions performed are legal, there is an act of negligence that is performed unknowingly. Most often, the actions are not performed to cause harm, but to create a short cut.
An example of misfeasance would be an events company contracted to deliver tents and chairs to a wedding reception, and the company delivers tents only, and unknowingly fails to deliver chairs for the guests. The events company can be sued for misfeasance and made to pay damages to the complainant.
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