Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Nonfeasance Definition:

Not doing something that a person should be doing.

Not doing something that a person has a legal obligation to be doing.

In Proksch v. Bettendorf, 218 Iowa 1376 (1934), the Supreme Court of Iowa adopted these words:

"Nonfeasance ... means the omission of an act which a person ought to do.

"Misfeasance is the improper doing of an act which a person might lawfully do.

"Malfeasance is the doing of an act which a person ought not to do at all."

Within the field of personal injury, aka tort law, nonfeasance is not usually actionable as the common law imposes no requirement on a person to help another in distress - that barring a special relationship between the do-nothing onlooker and the person in distress, there is no duty to rescue.

Flotation ringIn some jurisdictions, though, statutes exist which do impose such an obligation. For example, in Canada, the Criminal Code at ¶215:

"Every one is under a legal duty as a parent, foster parent, guardian or head of a family, to provide necessaries of life:

  • for a child under the age of sixteen years;
  • to their spouse or common-law partner; and
  • to a person under his charge if that person is unable, by reason of detention, age, illness, mental disorder or other cause, to withdraw himself from that charge, and is unable to provide himself with necessaries of life."

Or this from ¶7 of Ontario's Forest Fire Prevention Act (2007):

"For the purpose of controlling and extinguishing a fire, an officer may use any privately-owned equipment and may employ or summon the assistance of every able person over the age of eighteen, except persons providing essential services and persons physically unfit, and on private lands may take such action as he or she considers advisable to control and extinguish a fire."


References and Further Reading:




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