There are at least four situations in which the failure to act may constitute breach of a legal duty. One can be held criminally liable: 1. where a statute imposes a duty to care for another; 2. where one stands in a certain status relationship to another; 3. where one has assumed a contractual duty to care for another; and 4. where one has voluntarily assumed the care of another and so secluded the helpless person as to prevent others from rendering aid. In any of the four situations, there are critical issues of fact which must be passed on by the jury.
Appellant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter through failure to perform a legal duty of care for Anthony Lee Green, which failure resulted in his death. Defendant appealed from a jury verdict in the lower court finding defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter, asserting insufficient evidence, or alternatively, plain error, in instructing the jury of her legal obligation to provide food and necessities to a baby in her care. Appellant argued there was insufficient evidence to warrant a jury finding of breach of duty, or alternatively, plain error in failing to instruct the jury that it must first find that appellant was under a legal obligation to a baby in her care before finding her guilty of manslaughter in failing to provide food and necessities. On appeal, the court found the first contention meritless but reversed on the second.
Did the trial court err in failing to give the jury instruction regarding a determination of plaintiff's legal duty of care to the victim?
The court stated that criminal liability could be found for breach of a statutory duty where there was a certain status relationship, where one had assumed a contractual duty, and where one had secluded a helpless person so as to prevent others from aiding. Since a finding of legal duty was the critical element of the crime charged, failure to instruct the jury concerning it was plain error. Further, it was obvious error to instruct the jury without notice to counsel.