The “Reasonable Person” in a Negligence Case

The standard of care in negligence cases

The “reasonable person” standard is an objective test in personal injury cases that jurors use to determine if a defendant acted like other people would have in the same situation.

The question in any negligence case is, “What would a reasonable person have done in this same situation?”

reasonable man suit glasses

This reasonable person doesn’t actually exist.

He is an objective ideal, created so that juries have something to which they can cling during their deliberations. The reasonable person, who is probably bespectacled and wears a somber gray suit, represents the standard of care in the situation at hand.

For example, let’s say you’re in a car accident. You were rear-ended by another car while stopped in traffic. Let’s review the elements of negligence:

1. The defendant must have owed you a duty of care.
2. That duty of care must have been breached.
3. That breach must have caused injuries.
4. Those injuries must have resulted in damages.

All of these elements have been satisfied in the above scenario.

If and when the jury reviews the facts, they will compare it to the “reasonable person” standard.

They will determine how a typical person would have acted in the same scenario under the same circumstances. Would a reasonable person have reacted in the same fashion? What would those jurors have done under those circumstances? Would they have reacted the same way the defendant did? Would they have rear-ended your car?

This is technically an objective standard, not a subjective one, so it doesn’t take into account any specific aspects of the defendant and means everyone is held to the same level. The jury will consider the defendant’s conduct in light of what he knows and has experienced. However, it is meant to be a broad representation of the community at large.

Limitations to the objective standard

It should be mentioned that children are not held to the same standard; they are generally held to a comparable standard that children of the same age and experience would be (so other six-year-old children if the kid in question were also that age, for example). This is because children are limited in their experiences and can’t quite fathom the ramifications of their actions yet.

However, if those kids are engaging in adult activities – for instance, high-impact sports or something similarly dangerous – courts might be inclined to treat them as adults.

Additionally, individuals with advanced training, such as medical professionals, are held to a higher standard of care than your average Joe.

Expecting a jury to sort this out and consistently hold to an objective standard can be difficult, though, and it doesn’t always turn out the way courts hope.

For instance, if one juror has had an experience with car accidents and thinks that the defendant drives like a maniac, her interpretation of the reasonable person standard is likely going to be different than another juror’s interpretation. As such, this objective standard is really subjective and is different with every jury.

An attorney can help you sort this out if needed. Try checking out the Enjuris law firm directory!

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