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What Is Considered A “Reasonable Person” When It Comes To Negligence?

By Butler Prather LLP on November 16, 2020

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the careless or negligent actions of another individual, business, or entity, you may be entitled to various types of compensation for what happened. However, securing this compensation revolves around actually proving the negligence of the person who caused the injury. Proving this negligence involves showing that another individual or entity acted, or failed to act, in a way that another reasonable person would in the same situation. Here, we want to discuss what the term “reasonable” means in these situations.

Negligence, a reasonable person, and personal injury claims

There are various elements of negligence that need to be in place in order for a person to be held accountable for causing harm to another. This includes:

  • Duty
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation
  • Damages

Without going into too much detail, we want to focus on the breach of duty that needs to be present in order for a personal injury victim to successfully file a claim against the person who caused their injury. We focus on the breach of duty because this is where we will find the term “reasonable person” is used most often.

To be successful in a personal injury claim, the injury victim (the plaintiff) needs to show that the other party involved acted or failed to act in a way that any other “reasonable person” would act in a similar situation.

For example, a motorist is required to exercise the same care that a reasonable person would in any other situation, including obeying traffic laws, paying attention to pedestrians, not driving while impaired, etc. But we need to look at how “reasonable person” is defined, because the reality is that all people are different.

The “reasonable” person referred to in these situations is an ideal that focuses on how a typical person using ordinary prudence would act in certain circumstances. In a sense, reasonable means “average.” The test as to whether or not a person has acted reasonably and prudent is objective and does not include the specific abilities of the particular defendant in question. Thus, a person who is chronically careless or of relatively lower intelligence is held to the same standard that a more careful person or a person with significant intelligence would be.

Generally, it is up to a jury to decide whether or not a defendant has acted in a way that a reasonable person would have acted, while also taking into account other elements of the negligence case. The jury will usually consider the conduct of the defendant in light of the defendant’s knowledge, experience, and perception.

Let us use the example of an intoxicated driver who accidentally injures a pedestrian. In this situation, the intoxicated driver may not have intended to cause harm to the pedestrian. However, because a reasonable person would not drive while intoxicated, because this creates unreasonable risks to others, the intoxicated driver may be held liable for the incident despite their lack of intent to injure anybody.

Additionally, a defendant in a case cannot deny personal knowledge of basic facts that are commonly known to everybody in the community. For example, a reasonable person understands that live wires are dangerous, that texting and driving creates hazards, that ice is slippery, and that a child may run into the street when they are playing nearby.

Special skills and reasonableness

If a person is engaged in an activity that requires special skills, training, experience, or education, such as piloting an aircraft, then the standard by which reasonableness is determined will be measured by the conduct of other reasonably skilled, experienced, or competent individuals who are also a part of the qualified member group (i.e. other pilots, in this example).

Posted in: Personal Injury

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