Am I less responsible/liable for stuff that I break while doing someone a favor, and neither doing anything intentional to cause the break nor being negligent?

For example:

  • someone on the street asks you to take a picture of them with their phone. You drop the phone and cause a visible damage.

  • some friend asks you to drive his car since he's intoxicated. You haven't drunk and his home is near yours. In the way home you crash the car by being slightly inattentive and wrongly calculating the braking distance.

  • Realistically, both of those scenarios would amount to negligence. In cases of true non-negligence (e.g. a sniper aiming at someone behind you misses and hits the phone but not you, or a part falls off an airplane and lands on the car your driving him home in), there is no liability no matter what. You seem really concern about whether mere negligence that is not gross negligence could give rise to liability when you are a volunteer or doing a favor which varies quite a bit from state to state and is often a matter of a statutory exception to general tort rules.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 18:43
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Samaritan_law
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 20:52
  • @ohwilleke: Does Good Samaritan law apply to non-accidents with injuries? Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 22:12
  • Every Good Samaritan law is different. Premises liability laws also distinguish between invitees, licensees and trespassers.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 24, 2019 at 22:19
  • Check out the law of bailment as it applies in your country
    – lellis
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


In general, no

In the absence of a contract detailing your obligations (such as you get when you hire a car) the relevant law is that of negligence. To be responsible for damage you must have:

  1. had a duty to the plaintiff,
  2. breached that duty by failing to conform to the required standard of conduct (generally the standard of a reasonable person),
  3. the negligent conduct was, in law, the cause of the harm to the plaintiff, and
  4. the plaintiff was, in fact, harmed or damaged.

The duty arises from having the item in your care and control, failing to take reasonable care to avoid damage is a breach of that duty - you are liable no matter the reason the item was in your care and control.

  • This depends on the jurisdiction; negligence appears to be an English common-law concept. For instance, in the Netherlands the answer is an absolute "yes". There's no equivalent to the "duty of the plaintiff", so points 1&2 don't carry over. Instead, there's a situational standard of conduct. Both "doing someone a favor" and "not being a professional" count. In the "moving sisters" case, the plaintiff was not liable because she was not a trained professional but doing her sister a favor.
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 11:24
  • @MSalters those elements factor into the standard of conduct required
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 19:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .