Expressing Civil Law Concepts in Common Law Terms: the Diligence Standard

buen padre de familia ; ordenado empresario

In Spain (and in other Spanish-speaking countries) the measure for ordinary diligence is how a buen padre de familia would act, and is described as diligencia de un buen padre de familia (or diligencia media). With respect to the performance of obligations, Article 1104.2 of the Código Civil provides that cuando la obligación no exprese la diligencia con la que ha de prestarse en su cumplimiento, se exigirá la que correspondería a un buen padre de familia, while Article 1094 underscores that el obligado a dar una cosa lo está también a conservarla con la diligencia propia de un buen padre de familia. The common law counterpart of buen padre de familia is the “reasonable person” or “reasonably-prudent person,” acting with the diligence or care ordinarily exercised by a reasonable and prudent person under the circumstances. Here the standard of care is “based on what a reasonable person might be expected to do considering the circumstances and foreseeable consequences.”*

Just as the measure for diligence in ordinary affairs is how a buen padre de familia would act, the standard of care in business contexts (estándar mercantil de diligencia) is la diligencia de un ordenado empresario. In that regard, in defining the duty of care required of corporate directors, Article 225 of the Ley de Sociedades de Capital provides that deberán desempeñar el cargo y cumplir los deberes impuestos por las leyes y los estatutos con la diligencia de un ordenado empresario, teniendo en cuenta la naturaleza del cargo y las funciones atribuidas a cada uno de ellos. In common law jurisdictions the counterpart of this ordenado empresario is often referred to as the “reasonable business person,” and the standard of care required in commercial transactions is the “diligence of a reasonable business person.” As an example, in Canada directors of charitable organizations must exercise “a degree of skill and prudence comparable to a reasonable business person caring for his or her own property.”** To determine whether directors have acted negligently, courts often apply the “reasonable business person test” to compare their actions with what a reasonable business person would be expected to do in similar circumstances.

*Elizabeth A. Martin and Johnathan Law, eds. Oxford Dictionary of Law, 6th ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

** http://www.millerthomson.com/en/publications/newsletters/education-law-newsletter/february-25-2016/education-foundations-directors-personal

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