What’s a “Reasonable” Person When it Comes to Negligence?
For most personal injury claims, you must prove that the other party was negligent to recover compensation for your damages.
Negligence is the basis for injury claims arising from:
- Medical malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Dog bites and animal attacks
- Premises liability claims
- Construction accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Scooter and ATV accidents
Almost every type of personal injury case involves a negligence claim. Whether a person was negligent is based on what a “reasonable person” would have done in a similar situation. However, who is considered a “reasonable person?”
Who is Considered a Reasonable Person?
A “reasonable person” is subjective. It is a model for judging the reasonableness of another party’s conduct. There is no specific definition of a reasonable person.
In most cases, a reasonable person is defined as someone who uses ordinary prudence. In other words, the person uses a reasonable level of cautiousness in approaching a given situation. A reasonable person considers a situation and acts with common sense based on the circumstances.
For example, a reasonable person knows that texting while driving and speeding through a school zone are dangerous driving behaviors. Therefore, a reasonable person does not engage in these behaviors.
Another example might be a store owner failing to clean up a spill. A reasonable person knows that a spill makes the floor slippery. If they do not clean it, the spill could cause someone to fall. Therefore, a reasonable person would clean up the spill as quickly as possible or take other steps to prevent someone from falling.
The Reasonable Person Standard is Not the Same in Every Case
The facts and circumstances of the case dictate the standard used for a reasonable person. Using this standard does not mean that a person must be perfect. It only means that the person acted with reasonable prudence.
If a reasonable person would have made the same mistake or error, the party who caused the injury may not be liable for damages. There are also instances in which a situation was not within someone’s control. If the injury was unavoidable, a party might not be liable for damages.
Children Are an Exception to the Reasonable Person Standard
Children may be exempted from the reasonable person standard in some cases. A child lacks the knowledge and maturity of an adult. For that reason, a child cannot be expected to act with the same level of prudence and reasonableness as an adult in certain situations.
The court may apply a modified standard for the reasonable person test for children. The child’s actions may be measured against what a child of the same age, knowledge, and experience would do in a given situation.
The court uses the facts of the case to determine what standard should apply. Therefore, it is difficult to determine in advance what a judge may rule in these types of cases.
Who Decides What a Reasonable Person Would Do in a Given Situation?
The jurors stand in the shoes of the reasonable person. They listen to the evidence presented by each party to determine the facts of the case. They decide what a reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances.
The jury must decide if the risk was foreseeable. Suppose a risk was foreseeable and the person proceeded with this knowledge and without regard to the risk of harm or injury to another person. In that case, the jury may find the person’s conduct was not reasonable.
Personal injury lawyers often argue that the defendant could have taken steps to prevent the injury or harm. The hypothetical “reasonable person” can play a significant role in whether you recover compensation for your damages.
Proving Negligence in a Personal Injury Case
To prove negligence, you must show that:
- The person owed you a duty of care
- The person breached the duty of care
- The breach of duty caused your injuries
- You sustained damages because of the person’s conduct
Jurors may have strong opinions about what constitutes reasonableness. Reasonableness is used to judge whether the person breached the duty of care. If you cannot convince the jury that the person breached the duty of care, you cannot recover compensation for your economic damages (financial losses) or your pain & suffering damages.