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

It is helpful to understand the legal concept of negligence when discussing the reasonable person standard. Negligence is defined as failing to use a level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have used in similar circumstances. 

If a person is negligent, that person can be held liable for damages caused by the person’s conduct. 

Proving negligence requires a plaintiff provide evidence establishing each of the following legal elements:

  • Duty of care
  • Breach of the duty of care
  • Causation
  • Damages

The reasonable person standard is used to judge whether the defendant breached the duty of care. However, it is important to note that proving a defendant breached the duty of care is not sufficient to win a personal injury case.

You must also prove that the defendant’s negligent acts were a direct and proximate cause of your injury and that you sustained damages because of the breach of duty. If you cannot prove causation and damages, you are not entitled to compensation for your injury claim. 

What is the Reasonable Person Standard?

The reasonable person standard is the legal standard used to determine if a defendant’s conduct was negligent. The standard is objective and a matter of fact for a jury to determine. 

Jurors consider the evidence to decide what a “reasonable person” would have done in the same or similar situation. A reasonable person is someone of ordinary prudence. In other words, what would someone with ordinary common sense and care do in a given situation?

The jurors compare the defendant’s conduct to that of a reasonable person. If the defendant’s conduct fell short of the standard, the jurors may find the defendant breached the duty of care. 

If the breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injury, the jurors might find that the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s damages. Liability means that the defendant is personally responsible for compensating the plaintiff for damages caused by the defendant’s conduct. The jurors may also consider allegations of contributory fault when deciding whether a defendant is liable for all damages.

The types of damages that a jury might award in a personal injury case include:

  • Cost of medical treatment for injuries
  • Loss of income and benefits, including a future reduction of earning potential and future lost wages
  • Cost of nursing care and personal care
  • Pain and suffering caused by mental anguish, physical injuries, and emotional distress
  • Disability, impairment, and disfigurement
  • Reduced quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life

The jury may award punitive damages in some personal injury cases. The jurors must determine that the defendant was guilty of intentional wrongdoing or gross negligence. 

Is the Reasonable Person Standard the Same in All Personal Injury Cases?

No, the reasonable person standard is based on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. Therefore, defendants may be held to different standards of reasonableness.

For example, a child is not held to the same standard as an adult. The jurors would judge a child’s conduct based on what a reasonable “child” of the same age and maturity would have done, given the circumstances. Likewise, a person who has a mental incapacity may not be held to the same standard as a person with full mental abilities. 

What if the Defendant Could Not Foresee a Danger?

The reasonable person standard applies when the defendant could reasonably foresee how his conduct could cause harm or injury. If a reasonable person could not have foreseen that his conduct could injure someone, the defendant is not guilty of negligence. It is up to the jury to decide what a reasonable person could foresee. 

Likewise, if the circumstances that led to the plaintiff’s injury were outside the defendant’s control, the jury might find that the defendant is not liable. Even a reasonable person cannot prevent an injury when he cannot control the circumstances that led to the injury. 

How Can I Prove What a Reasonable Person Would Have Done?

Your personal injury lawyer uses the circumstances surrounding your injury to argue that the defendant knew or should have known that their conduct could cause injury to another person. The attorney must use the facts of the case to show that a reasonably prudent person would have acted differently. 

The key is to give the jurors a sensible and realistic explanation of what a reasonable person would have done in the situation. It is then up to the jurors to decide whether they agree with the lawyer’s argument. Jurors may use or discount any evidence presented during the trial to make their decision.