Most personal injury cases are based on negligence claims. A “reasonable person” is a hypothetical standard used to judge whether a person was negligent in such a case. Courts and juries will compare a defendant’s conduct to what a “reasonable person” might have done in the same or similar situation to determine whether the person was negligent.

Who Decides What a Reasonable Person Would Have Done in a Situation?

There is not a standard definition for what a reasonable person would do in every situation. Reasonableness is an objective standard. 

Jurors in a personal injury trial decide what a reasonable person would have done. They must consider the facts of the case, the circumstances surrounding the injury, and other relevant information to decide what a reasonable person would have done in the situation.

However, most people view reasonableness as using common sense and caution. What constitutes common sense and reasonable caution varies depending on the situation. 

The jurors compare the defendant’s conduct (the person being sued) to what they consider “reasonable” conduct. If the defendant’s conduct falls short of the reasonable person standard, the jurors may find that the defendant was negligent. 

A Reasonable Person is Not a Perfect Person

It is important to understand that the reasonable person standard is not “perfection.” People make mistakes and errors. In some situations, it could be reasonable to make certain errors, given the circumstances.

If a defendant’s mistake or error was reasonable under the circumstances, the person might not be negligent. Likewise, if the person could not have foreseen the outcome of a situation, they may not be negligent. 

Examples of the Reasonable Person Standard

Let’s take a DUI accident case. Jurors may find that a reasonable person would understand driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and dangerous. 

It is foreseeable that driving drunk could result in a car accident and injuries. Therefore, the jury may find that the drunk driver was negligent and is liable for the accident victim’s damages. 

Another example might be a grocery store owner failing to repair a leaky sink in the bathroom. A reasonable person would understand that water on the floor could create slip and fall hazards. The prudent action would be to warn people of the danger and repair the leak.

If the owner fails to take reasonable steps to prevent an accident, the jury might find that the owner is liable for damages if a customer slips and falls. The jury might award the victim compensation for their non-economic and economic damages. 

Children May Be Exempt From the Reasonable Person Standard

Children may not be held liable for their actions because they lack the maturity to understand specific risks and consequences. 

For that reason, the court may use a modified reasonable person standard to judge a child’s actions. For example, the court could instruct the jury to consider what a child of similar age and maturity would have done in a similar situation instead of what an adult might have done in the situation. 

Proving Negligence Using the Reasonable Person Standard 

Proving negligence means establishing four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. First, you must establish that the defendant owed you a duty of care. For example, a driver owes others a duty to drive safely and obey traffic laws. 

You must also prove that the defendant breached the duty of care. The reasonable person standard is used to determine whether the person breached the duty of care.

The juror analyzes the defendant’s actions and compares those to what a reasonable person would have done. If the defendant’s actions fall short of the reasonable person standard, the defendant breached the duty of care.

However, the reasonable person standard is only one element of a negligence claim. After the jury finds that the defendant breached the duty of care, it must also find that the breach caused the accident that resulted in the victim’s injury.

Take a drunk driver, for instance. The jury could find that driving under the influence breaches the duty of care owed to other drivers and individuals using the roadway.

However, did the drunk driver cause the accident? Being drunk is not the same thing as causing an accident. Therefore, if the drunk driver did not cause the accident, they cannot be held liable for damages.

Therefore, it is essential to remember that an accident victim must prove all four elements of a negligence claim to recover compensation for damages.