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

Negligence is the basis for most personal injury claims in Pennsylvania. Proving negligence requires you to show that the defendant (the party who caused your injury) failed to act as a “reasonable person.” However, how do you know what a “reasonable person” would do in a similar situation? 

What Is the “Reasonable Person” Standard in a Personal Injury Case? 

Individuals and other parties owe a general duty to take reasonable care to avoid injuring another person. For example, motorists owe a duty of care to other people using the road to follow traffic laws. 

Following traffic laws reduces the risk of causing a traffic collision. If a driver speeds, operates a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, or runs a red light, they risk causing another person injury or harm. Failing to take reasonable care when driving a car could result in liability for damages.

Another example is a property owner that fails to post a warning sign or correct a known hazard on the property. Property owners owe a duty of care to those who legally enter their property. 

The “reasonable person” standard is used to determine whether a person breached their duty of care. If a defendant’s conduct failed to meet the reasonable person standard of care, they could be negligent, resulting in financial liability for the injured person’s damages.

How is the Reasonable Person Standard Defined?

The standard of care depends on the circumstances and facts of the case. The standard used is what a reasonably prudent person would have done in the same situation. 

Jury members determine what a “reasonable person” should have done, given the circumstances. For example, would a reasonable person clean up a spill on the floor at a restaurant? A reasonable person would recognize that the slick floor could cause a slip and fall accident and therefore clean the spill.

Likewise, would a reasonable person speed through a school zone during school hours? A reasonably prudent person would recognize that speeding through a school zone could increase the risk of a car crash or pedestrian accident. 

After determining what a reasonable person would have done in the situation, the jury analyzes the defendant’s conduct. If the defendant’s conduct fell short of the jurors’ definition of reasonableness, they might find the defendant liable for negligence. 

How Does the Reasonable Person Standard Impact Your Personal Injury Case?

Your lawyer needs to present evidence that the defendant failed to act with reasonable care. Therefore, the attorney must demonstrate several key elements:

  • The risk of harm was foreseeable. In other words, a reasonable person would have known that their conduct could cause someone harm.
  • Alternative conduct that a reasonable person would have taken in similar circumstances.
  • The defendant’s failure to act with reasonable care directly led to the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • The plaintiff sustained damages because of the defendant’s negligent conduct.

For a defendant to be responsible for the plaintiff’s damages, the jury must find that the plaintiff proved all elements of the negligence case by a preponderance of the evidence. If not, the defendant may not be liable.

For example, the plaintiff proves that the defendant’s conduct failed to meet the reasonable person standard. However, the plaintiff did not provide sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant’s conduct directly caused the car crash. In that case, the jurors might rule in favor of the defendant.

On the other hand, the jurors might find that the defendant’s conduct directly contributed to the car accident case. However, the circumstances were beyond the defendant’s control. Even a reasonable person would not have been able to avoid the accident. Therefore, the defendant might not be liable for damages.

How Do Children Fit Into the Reasonable Person Standard?

Generally, children are the exception to the reasonable person standard in a personal injury case. Children may lack the capacity to understand the consequences of their actions in the same way an adult would understand consequences. 

Therefore, the court might not hold a child to the same level of care. Instead, the child is held to a standard of care expected from a child of the same age, experience, and knowledge. 

There are situations in which a minor could be held to a higher level of care. For instance, teenage drivers are often held to the same level of care as adult drivers. 

Each Personal Injury Case Is Unique

The circumstances and facts of a personal injury case determine the reasonable person standard of care. They also determine whether the defendant’s conduct met that level of care. A skilled Lancaster personal injury lawyer understands how to use the evidence in the case to present a scenario for the jurors to follow that supports a finding of negligence and liability.

If you’ve been injured in Pennsylvania, please contact Marzzacco Niven & Associates at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today:

Harrisburg Law Office
945 East Park Drive, Suite 103 Harrisburg, PA 17111
(717) 231-1640

York Law Office
2550 Kingston Road, Suite 210A York, PA 17401
(717) 995-8998

Wyomissing Law Office
833 N. Park Road, Suite 103, Room A Wyomissing, PA 19610
(717) 388-2325

Chambersburg Law Office
79 St. Paul Drive, Suite 1 Chambersburg, PA 17201
(717) 388-2378

Carlisle Law Office
354 Alexander Springs Road Carlisle, PA 17015
(717) 995-8732

Carbondale Law Office
30 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 101 Carbondale, PA 18407
(717) 995-8810

Lancaster Law Office
2173 Embassy Drive, Ste 123, Lancaster Pa 17603
(717) 616-2954

Lebanon Law Office
937 Willow Street, Suite D Lebanon, PA 17042-1140
(717) 995-8963