If you’ve so much as Googled “negligence,” you may have seen references to a “reasonable person.” Who is this reasonable person, and what does it mean for your case?

The first thing you need to know is that this “reasonable person” is entirely hypothetical. It’s an objective standard, not a title. There is no single “reasonable person” standard for all negligence cases, either. The standard for a reasonable person in a medical malpractice case is very different from the reasonable person standard in a slip-and-fall case.

In short, the reasonable person standard is what a typical person would have done in similar circumstances.

Negligence and the Reasonable Person

In a negligence case, there are four elements your lawyer must prove:

  1. The defendant owed you a duty of care;
  2. The defendant breached that duty of care;
  3. The breach caused actual injury; and
  4. The injury resulted in damages.

The reasonable person standard comes into play when evaluating duty and breach. For example, in a car accident case, every driver owes other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians a certain duty of care. When a jury evaluates the facts, they’ll decide whether the defendant acted as a reasonable driver would have. If the defendant ran a red light into oncoming traffic, it’s safe to assume that they were not acting like the typical, reasonable driver would in the same scenario.

Although the standard is supposed to be objective, in practice, it can be hard to get a jury to agree on what constitutes reasonable actions.

Exceptions to the ‘Objective’ Standard

Two major exceptions to this “objective” standard are children and people with specialized training or education.

Children are usually not held to a “reasonable person” standard. Depending on their age, they may be considered legally incapable of appreciating the consequences of their actions. However, that’s not always the case. If the child is over 14 or was engaged in adult activities (such as extreme sports) at the time of the accident, they may be held to an adult standard.

Specialized training and education can also change the standard. In medical malpractice cases, the standard is what a reasonable healthcare provider of the same training, education and experience would have done in a similar situation. If the average doctor wouldn’t have amputated the wrong limb, for example, they would not be considered “reasonable” in the eyes of the law.

If you have questions about the reasonable person standard, be sure to talk to your attorney.

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