Category: Negligence

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

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

In a personal injury claim, the standard of care that defines negligence is often measured against what a “reasonable person” would do in a similar situation. Interestingly enough, this hypothetical “reasonable person” might decide your case even though they don’t actually exist. However, determining the particular characteristics of a “reasonable person” can be a complex task, as they vary from case to case. 

The Four Legal Elements of a Negligence Claim

Every personal injury claim includes certain “elements,” which are facts that you must prove to win. The most common type of personal injury claim, negligence, typically includes four elements: duty, breach, damages, and causation. Below is an explanation of each, with special attention to how the “reasonable person” figures in. 

Duty of Care

Every adult of normal intelligence owes a duty of care to everyone else. This ordinary duty of care includes the duty to drive safely and to generally refrain from subjecting others to unreasonable risks of harm. The question here is, “What should a reasonable person do in this situation?” Would a reasonable person, for example, drive the speed limit on sheet ice during a blizzard? Probably not.

Breach of Duty

Breach of duty means failure to do your duty, either by doing something you shouldn’t do or by failing to do something you should do. Failing to turn on your windshield wipers while driving during a rainstorm is an example. You breach your duty of care when your behavior fails to meet the standard set by a “reasonable person” as defined by the applicable standard of care.

Damages

“Damages” means losses, both tangible and intangible. They include economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost earnings, as well as non-economic damages, such as emotional distress. In some cases, they include punitive damages. Economic damages are relatively easy to prove, while proving non-economic damages can immerse you into a dispute about how much your subjective suffering is worth.

The “reasonable person” figures in here when the defendant accuses the plaintiff of failing to mitigate their damages. An example of this would be if you failed to follow your doctor’s instructions, thereby causing your medical condition to deteriorate and doubling your medical expenses. Why should the defendant pay for damages that you could have avoided with the exercise of reasonable care? 

Causation

The element of causation is what links the defendant’s breach of their duty of care (in other words, their negligence) with your injury. Without causation, you have no claim. Even if the defendant collided with you while drunk, for example, they would still defeat your claim if they could show that the accident would have occurred if they had been sober. Two types of causation matter: cause in fact and proximate cause.

Cause in Fact

Cause in fact is the logical type of causation. Cause in fact exists if you can prove that, but for the defendant’s negligence, your injury would not have occurred. Cause in fact is necessary, but not sufficient to give you victory. You also need to establish proximate cause.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is the subjective type of cause, and it is here that the “reasonable person” again becomes relevant. Even if cause in fact exists, the defendant is not liable if a “reasonable person” would not have foreseen the result. Even a reasonable person cannot foresee everything. 

Special Case: Negligence Per Se

In negligence per se (a shortcut to proving negligence), an enforceable safety standard such as a traffic law, for example, or a regulation on the construction or maintenance of swimming pools, serve as the standard of care. In this case, you don’t need to ask, “What should a reasonable person do in this situation?” A reasonable person would comply with the law.

Speak With a Reputable Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have been injured due to the negligence of another party, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process of filing a claim.

Man suffering from neck pain after car accident injury

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.