What is Considered a “Reasonable Person” When It Comes to Negligence?

Accidents can happen for many reasons. Often, they’re the result of someone’s negligence. If you’re injured because of another party’s carelessness, you may be able to seek compensation for your medical bills and other damages.

To show you deserve compensation, you must prove the other party was negligent. Negligence requires proof that the party failed to act as a “reasonable person.” However, what is the reasonable person standard?

Understanding the ‘Reasonable Person’ Standard

Negligence is composed of four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. You must show the following to win your negligence claim:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care
  • The defendant breached that duty of care
  • The breach caused your injuries
  • You suffered damages

The reasonable person standard relates to the first two elements. Many situations and relationships give rise to a duty of care. For example, a driver has a duty to others to obey traffic laws and avoid driving dangerously. A property owner owes their guest a duty to maintain safe premises. A medical professional owes a patient a duty to provide the proper care.

These duties are ones of “reasonable care.” A person breaches their duty by acting unreasonably given the circumstances. Specifically, a breach happens when a party fails to act as a reasonable person.

A reasonable person is an ideal or hypothetical person, not a real person. A reasonable person exercises caution and prudence when engaging in certain behaviors that could put others at risk of harm. Likewise, they avoid dangerous and reckless behaviors that could injure others.

Ultimately, a jury is the reasonable person in personal injury cases. It decides whether a defendant behaved like a reasonable person in the circumstances leading up to the plaintiff’s injury. If the jury finds that the defendant behaved unreasonably, they would conclude the defendant breached their duty to the plaintiff.

A Reasonable Person Example

Generally, a person fails to act as a reasonable person when they engage in preventable behaviors that expose others to harm.

For example, suppose a driver runs a red light and collides with your car, injuring you in the process. As mentioned above, a driver has a duty to obey traffic laws and drive safely to avoid accidents. 

A reasonable person stops at red lights and complies with other traffic signals. A reasonable person would not run a red light because it increases the risk of an accident. A jury would likely find that the driver failed to act as a reasonable person by running the red light. They would presumably find the driver negligent for causing your collision.

The Complexities of the Reasonable Person Standard

There are some exceptions to the reasonable person standard; they typically involve children. Young children should not be held to the same standards as adults. Instead, the law requires children to behave like children of the same age, experience, and intelligence. In some jurisdictions, the law holds children to the (adult) reasonable standard of care when they engage in dangerous activities, such as driving a motor vehicle.

Determining whether someone did or didn’t behave reasonably requires a thorough understanding of the law. This is one of many reasons it’s important to work with a qualified attorney when filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit.  A personal injury attorney can review your case and determine if another person injured you due to negligence. They can help you prove the other person failed to act as a reasonable person and caused your damages.