The “reasonable person” is used as a measure of prudence in personal injury claims to determine if someone acted reasonably in a given situation. 

The reasonable person standard is used in cases including injuries caused by:

Indeed, most all personal injury cases based on negligence rely on the reasonable person standard.

What is a Reasonable Person?

The legal standard is based on what a hypothetical reasonable person would do in a given situation. The reasonable person is not a real person but defines how a person should act or not act to avoid causing injury to another.

A reasonable person’s conduct is prudent and legally appropriate. First, a reasonable person considers the risks of engaging in certain behaviors, such as when driving a car or maintaining their property. Then, after considering the circumstances, a reasonable person acts with average common sense and carefulness.

If an individual does not act as a reasonable person and causes an injury, the individual could be held liable for the victim’s damages. For example, a reasonable person understands that leaving a ladder in the middle of a walkway in a busy store would be a tripping hazard. Therefore, a reasonable person would move the ladder to a safer location to avoid accidents and injuries.

Who Decides What A Reasonable Person Would Do in a Situation?

Jury members decide what a reasonable person would do or not do to avoid injuries to themselves or others in a given situation. Thus, the jurors become the “reasonable person” in the case. 

In a personal injury lawsuit, jurors listen to the testimony presented during the trial. Then, the jurors decide what happened in the case. Next, jurors decide what a reasonable person would have done under the same or similar circumstances. Finally, unless there is an exception or circumstances that change the reasonable person standard, the jurors determine if the at-fault party acted as a reasonable person.

Part of determining reasonable conduct is deciding if the events could have been foreseen. If an individual could have foreseen a risk and proceeded without regard to the safety of others, then the person was not acting reasonably. However, suppose it was nearly impossible to foresee the circumstances that led to the injury. In that case, the jury might find that the person was not negligent and is not responsible for the victim’s injuries and damages.

Children Are Often Exempted from the Reasonable Person Standard

Children do not have the maturity and foresight to anticipate or understand the risk that might be involved in their actions. Therefore, children are often not held to the same standard as adults in a personal injury case. 

The judge may instruct the jury not to apply the reasonable person standard. The judge could instruct the jury to modify the reasonable person standard to measure the child’s actions against a child of the same age, education, experience, and knowledge. 

This situation often arises when the child is the victim and could be partially to blame for the cause of an accident or injury. Premises liability cases, such as swimming pool accidents, are common examples in which the reasonable person standard might not apply or may be modified.

Proving Negligence and Personal Injury Claims

You must prove the four legal elements of negligence to recover compensation for your damages after an injury accident, including

  • Duty – The party owed you a duty of care, such as by driving responsibility or maintaining their premises for guests’ safety
  • Breach of duty – The party breached the duty of care 
  • Causation – The breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your injury
  • Damages – You sustained damages because of the party’s conduct

Damages in a personal injury case may include economic damages. Economic damages are the financial losses associated with the incident, such as loss of income, medical bills, personal care costs, and travel expenses to doctor’s visits.

Damages also include the pain and suffering experienced by the victim because of the accident and injuries. These damages are called non-economic damages. They may include emotional distress, permanent impairment, physical pain, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish.

The reasonable person standard is used to determine whether the party breached the duty of care. Jurors may have varying opinions as to what would be reasonable in a given set of circumstances. 

It is up to your personal injury lawyer to convince the jurors what a reasonable person would have done in the situation. Then, the lawyer must convince the jurors that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would have acted, and you were injured and suffered damages because of that failure.

If you cannot convince the jury that the defendant failed the reasonable person standard, you cannot recover money for your injury claim.

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