Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C. | April 15, 2021 | Personal Injury
Negligence is the failure to use the care that a “reasonable person” would use under the same or similar circumstances. If your conduct or omission results in harm to another person, you could be financially liable for damages sustained by that person. Likewise, if someone’s negligence harmed you, you can hold them legally accountable.
What is the Standard for a Reasonable Person?
There is no one specific model for a “reasonable person.” However, a reasonable person is described as someone with “ordinary prudence.” Being prudent means you are cautious. Therefore, a reasonable person approaches a situation with caution and acts with common sense based on the circumstances and facts.
The reasonable person standard is an “objective standard.” it does not ask whether you personally were justified in acting or not acting in a certain situation. It asks whether a reasonable person would have behaved in the same way.
For example, a reasonably prudent landlord would repair a faulty handrail that could cause someone to fall. Ignoring the broken handrail is not prudent or reasonable.
Another example would be a driver who chooses to drive while intoxicated. A prudent, reasonable person recognizes the dangers of drunk driving and would have found an alternate means of transportation.
The reasonable person standard may change based on the facts of the case. It also does not mean that a person must be perfect. No one is perfect.
If a reasonable person would have made the same mistake or error given the circumstances, the at-fault party might not be liable for damages. Also, there could be instances in which an accident or injury was unavoidable regardless of how a reasonable person may have acted. In that case, the at-fault party might not be liable for circumstances beyond his control.
Juries Determine What a Reasonable Person Would Have Done
It is up to the jury to determine what a reasonable person would have done given the facts of the case. It is necessary to prove that the risk of harm was foreseeable by a reasonable person in most cases.
For instance, allowing a drain to leak onto the floor in your store is a foreseeable risk when people are walking through the area. A person could slip and fall because of the water on the floor. A reasonable person would foresee the risk of harm and take steps to clean up the water or warn people of the danger.
When a risk is foreseeable, the person was or could have been aware of the danger. They knew or should have known that their actions could result in an injury or harm to another person. However, the person chose to proceed regardless of the risk. An attorney for the victim may also offer an alternative action that a reasonable person would have taken to avoid the risk.
The jury must consider the facts and circumstances of the case objectively from a reasonable person’s eyes. If a party did not act reasonably, the jury might find them liable for the victim’s damages.
Children Are the Exception to the Reasonable Person Standard
Children are generally not held to the reasonable person standard. A child cannot be expected to have the maturity and knowledge to act in the same manner as an adult. Therefore, courts often use a modified standard to determine the reasonableness of a child’s actions.
Typically, the child’s actions are compared to a child of the same age, experience, and knowledge. However, there could be instances in which an adult standard would apply. The cases are complex and judged by the facts and circumstances relevant to the action.
Negligence and the Reasonable Person
The reasonable person standard has a significant impact on your personal injury case. Jurors may have strong opinions regarding what is prudent and what dangers and risks should be foreseeable.
Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is essential. An attorney with trial experience understands how to present the facts of the case to help jurors see the situation as a reasonable person. Presentation of evidence is an essential part of trial work.
The reasonable person standard is not as important when cases are settled out of court. You do not have to prove what a reasonable person would or would not have done in a similar situation. The other party admits they are liable for your damages, so the only dispute to resolve is how much the claim is worth.
However, the reasonable person standard could cast a shadow on the settlement negotiations. If the other party believes that your evidence is weak, it may agree to a lesser amount to settle your claim.
It is up to you and your lawyer to determine whether to settle the case or proceed to trial. In either case, the reasonable person’s role cannot be discounted in a personal injury case.