What does "Culpa" mean?

Culpa is a legal term used as a legal basis to determine damages, when there is no contract available.

Culpa is a legal term that means guilt, error, negligence or sin. It is not written into Danish law but can still constitute a regular legal basis. A good contract includes conditions for determining restitution in the case of a breach of contract. If a claim for restitution can not be connected to a contract, the concept of culpa is used as a legal guideline.

When a person has acted culpably, this means that they have caused damage either intentionally or through negligence. This can be used to settle a dispute. In order to be considered culpable, the damaging act has to diverge from commonly accepted patterns of behavior. Thus, the act has to be intended.

Previously, the Bonus Pater Familias (the good family man), an infallible person, was used as a basis for comparison. It is however generally accepted, that people are not infallible. Hence, the Bonus Pater Familias-concept is being phased out.

Culpa is used, among other things, in the case of traffic accidents or when a company is guilty of environmental pollution.

Conditions for culpa

First and foremost, there has to occur an economic or capitalizable loss not covered by insurance. The loss can not be expressed as sentimental value, since it is not possible to pay restitution for sentiments. Furthermore, there has to be a clear causality between the loss and the culpable act. This is, where it becomes interesting. In order to hold a person accountable with culpa as the basis for restitution, the act has to be intended. The damages also have to be adequate. That is to say, they can not be of such an atypical nature, that they could not have been foreseen.

For a person’s actions to be considered irresponsible or negligent, it has to be possible to foresee or imagine the act to cause the loss. A force majeure, for example, is an element that evades culpa, because it constitutes an unforeseeable circumstance.

One can also be exempted from restitution, if the injured has acted negligent and thereby bears responsibility themselves.

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