Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Negligence and the 'Reasonable Person'

To be negligent is to act, or fail to act, in a way that causes injury to another person. But no one is perfect and accidents happen to the best of us. What separates a common accident from an act of negligence, however, is the "standard of care" required in a given situation. By neglecting the proper standard of care for a given situation, an individual may be found liable for any resulting injuries.

For example, a motorist must exercise the same care that a "reasonable person" would in the same situation, which includes obeying traffic laws and paying attention to pedestrians and other drivers. For instance, if a severely nearsighted driver forgets to wear his glasses and hits a jaywalking pedestrian, he would be considered negligent because a reasonable, severely nearsighted person would not drive without glasses or contacts.

Negligence, the Reasonable Person, and Injury Claims

The so-called reasonable person in the law of negligence focuses on how a typical person, with ordinary prudence, would act in certain circumstances. The test as to whether an individual has acted as a reasonable person is an objective one, and so it doesn't take into account the specific abilities of a defendant. Thus, even a person who has low intelligence or is chronically careless is held to the same standard as a more careful person or a person of higher intelligence.

A jury generally decides whether a defendant has acted as a reasonable person would have acted, in addition to meeting the other elements of a negligence case. In making this decision, the jury generally considers the defendant's conduct in light of what the defendant actually knows or should have reasonably known, experienced, or perceived.

For example, one may consider a defendant working on a loading dock and tossing large bags of grain onto a truck. In the process of doing this, the defendant notices two children playing near the truck. The defendant throws a bag towards the truck and unintentionally strikes one of the children. In this instance, a jury would take into account the defendant's actual knowledge that children were playing in the area when the jury determines whether the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances. One must note, however, that the defendant would be liable for negligence only if the defendant owed a duty of care to the injured plaintiff.

In addition to the defendant's actual knowledge, a jury also considers knowledge that should be common to everyone in a particular community. Accordingly, the defendant in the example above would be responsible for knowing that a bag of grain could injure a child, as well as with knowing the natural propensities of children.

Negligence and the Reasonable Person: Children

A child generally is not expected to act as a reasonable adult would act. Instead, courts hold children to a modified standard. Under this standard, a child's actions are compared with the conduct of other children of the same age, experience, and intelligence. Courts in some jurisdictions, however, apply the adult standard of care to children who engage in certain adult activities, such as driving a car or handling weapons.

Talk to a Lawyer to Learn More About Negligence and the Reasonable Person

If you or a loved one has been injured through negligence -- something a 'reasonable person' wouldn't have caused -- it means someone failed to act in a reasonable manner, and is therefore liable for any injuries that resulted. But how strong of a case do you really have, and is it worth pursuing? You can find out today by discussing your case with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options