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What is Nonfeasance?

The definition of nonfeasance is basically criminal negligence committed by a high status individual, typically a government employee.

  • Nonfeasance: not performing an act which results in a crime being committed.

However, nonfeasance can be used in lieu of the word crime when an officer of a corporation has failed to act, resulting in an unlawful incident.

court room

Nonfeasance is a legal and ethical concept that stands in contrast to malfeasance. While malfeasance involves the commission of wrongful or unlawful acts, nonfeasance refers to the failure to perform a required duty or obligation. In other words, nonfeasance occurs when someone neglects to take action or fulfill a responsibility they were expected to carry out. This term is often used in the context of duty of care, negligence, and professional or ethical responsibilities.

The act of nonfeasance can manifest in various situations. For instance, if a lifeguard on duty fails to rescue a drowning person or provide timely assistance, it can be considered nonfeasance because they did not perform their expected duty of ensuring safety. Similarly, in the medical field, if a healthcare provider neglects to administer necessary treatment to a patient, it may be categorized as nonfeasance. This legal concept is particularly significant in personal injury and professional liability cases.

Addressing nonfeasance typically involves establishing whether there was a recognized duty of care, a breach of that duty, and whether the breach resulted in harm to another party. Legal systems have frameworks in place to determine liability and accountability for nonfeasance. It underscores the importance of individuals and professionals fulfilling their obligations and responsibilities to prevent harm and maintain ethical and legal standards.

Nonfeasance Example: Government Employee
  • A vehicle inspection agency employee that allows an unsafe vehicle on the road which results in injury.

  • A tax auditor neglecting to review a tax return for inaccuracies, leading to potential revenue losses for the government.

  • A building inspector failing to assess construction projects for safety code compliance, potentially jeopardizing public safety.

  • A border patrol officer not inspecting cargo containers for contraband, allowing illegal goods to enter the country.

  • An immigration officer overlooking visa expiration dates and failing to enforce immigration laws.

  • A public health official neglecting to inspect and regulate food establishments, putting consumers at risk of foodborne illnesses.

  • A government social worker not conducting required home visits to ensure the well-being of foster children.

  • A city planner not enforcing zoning regulations, leading to haphazard and potentially unsafe urban development.

  • A government procurement officer not verifying vendors' qualifications, resulting in the awarding of contracts to unqualified businesses.

  • A government-funded research scientist not conducting necessary safety checks, potentially causing harm to research subjects.

  • A government agency responsible for disaster preparedness failing to develop and implement a comprehensive emergency response plan, leading to inadequate disaster relief in the event of a crisis.

Nonfeasance Example: Citizen
  • Not shoveling snow and cleaning ice around their property which results in a "slip and fall."

  • A driver failing to yield at a pedestrian crosswalk and not allowing pedestrians to safely cross the street.

  • A homeowner neglecting to shovel snow and clear ice from their sidewalk, posing a slip-and-fall hazard to passersby.

  • A business owner ignoring a fire alarm and not evacuating the building during an emergency, potentially risking lives.

  • A dog owner not properly restraining their aggressive pet, leading to a dog attack on a passerby.

  • A student failing to report a bullying incident to school authorities, thereby perpetuating harm to the victim.

  • A neighbor not reporting suspicious activity or noise disturbances, hindering community safety and security.

  • A customer refusing to follow store policies such as mask-wearing during a pandemic, potentially endangering others.

  • A renter neglecting to inform their landlord about a plumbing issue, causing property damage and inconvenience to others.

  • A hiker not properly disposing of trash in a national park, contributing to environmental degradation.

  • A witness to a crime failing to report it to the police, impeding law enforcement's ability to address criminal activity.

About the Author

Peter Sandru

Peter Sandru is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 15 years as a Professional Private Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, legal firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of numerous investigative & security training programs in various capacities.

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