What Is Considered a “Reasonable Person” When it Comes to Negligence?

Tort law and criminal law use the “reasonable person” standard for determining negligence. This standard is how the law generally measures the negligent conduct of a person. The reasonable person standard is typically applied in cases where one person owes a duty to another person. 

A reasonable person is a person that uses the average amount of prudence, consideration, and caution while performing or abstaining from action. The reasonable person standard was first created in the old English case Vaughn v. Menlove (portions of United States law are originally based on English law). The defendant, in that case, stacked hay in an unsafe manner next to his neighbor’s structure due to the fire risk it would create. 

What Types of Cases Utilize a Reasonable Person Standard?

Most negligence cases utilize the reasonable person standard. The reasonable person standard would be used in the following case types, for example:

This list is far from exhaustive. The majority of personal injury cases will utilize the reasonable person standard.

How Is the “Reasonable Person” Determined?

When determining what or who a reasonable person is, the jury will not consider an actual person to compare to the defendant. Instead, the jury will compare the defendant to a hypothetical person–the “reasonable person.”

A reasonable person is someone whose conduct is always legally appropriate, always cautious, and always gives due consideration before acting or refraining from acting. Even before the reasonable person decides to act or refrain from acting, the reasonable person will consider the risks. After considering those risks, if any, the reasonable person will act with an average amount of caution and common sense.

If the defendant did not act as the reasonable person would, the defendant could be held legally responsible for any damages caused to the plaintiff.

How Do You Prove Negligence Using the Reasonable Person Standard?

In a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove the four elements of negligence to recover damages. These elements are:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

The reasonable person standard enters the scene most directly under the “breach” element. Once a duty of care has been established, the plaintiff must assert that the defendant’s actions constituted a violation (breach) of that duty of care. The reasonable person standard is utilized to that end.

If the case is one in which a jury is present, the jurors will determine whether the defendant acted in a reasonable manner under the specific circumstances of the case. In a bench trial, the judge will decide the above. In either case, if the plaintiff is unable to convince the jury or the judge that the defendant acted unreasonably under the same or similar circumstances, the plaintiff is likely to lose.

Exceptions to the Reasonable Person Standard

A primary exception to the reasonable person standard is children. Children, obviously, do not act similarly to adults within the same or similar circumstances. Additionally, children do not have the maturity or the experience to act in a certain way or understand certain risks to their specific actions. Thus, children are not held to the same standard as an adult in negligence claims. 

Instead, the court may instruct the jury to compare the actions of the child defendant to that of a child of the same age, education, experience, and knowledge. Of course, there are always exceptions to the exception. For example, if a child is driving a car, the child may be held to the reasonable person standard because of the action taken.

An Attorney Can Help Prove Your Negligence Case

If you have a personal injury claim, you will want to contact an experienced attorney to help prove your case for compensation. Negligence claims may appear simple to prove, but there are nuances that make every situation unique and complex.

Contact the Clearwater Personal Injury Lawyers At Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for Help

For more information, please contact the Clearwater and St. Petersburg personal injury law firm of Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We serve in Pinellas County, and its surrounding areas:

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater
1875 N Belcher Rd. STE 201,
Clearwater, FL 33765,
United States
24 hours

Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg
2560 1st Ave S,
St. Petersburg, FL 33712,
United States
24 hours
(727) 349-1728