Have you ever heard of the “reasonable man?” The reasonable man is a hypothetical person of legal fiction created by the court of law. The reasonable man is someone who weighs the potential risks and consequences before acting in a certain way. Defendants in civil cases are compared to this man. For example, courts will ask: “would a reasonable person of the same age, intelligence, and profession have acted the same way in the same situation?” If the answer is no, then it’s likely that the defendant acted negligently. In legal terms, this is called the reasonable person standard.
We are all morally obligated to exercise reasonable care in order to protect each other. When people fail to act like a reasonably prudent person would, and their actions result in a major injury, they could be hit with a civil personal injury lawsuit. Below, Albany personal injury lawyers at Bailey, Johnson & Peck explain this concept in depth.
If you or someone you love has suffered a major illness, injury, or death due to someone’s negligence, you have grounds to take legal action. The personal injury lawyers at Bailey, Johnson & Peck can review the details of your case, help you gather evidence to prove that negligence occurred, and fight for your justice. Call 518-456-0082 to schedule a free consultation today.
What is Negligence?
Negligence occurs when a person fails to take reasonable care in a given situation which causes someone to suffer major injury, illness, or wrongful death. Someone can be considered negligent if they commit both negligent actions and/or inactions.
For example, someone in the medical profession can be found liable for negligence if they prescribe the wrong medication to someone. This is considered a negligent action. On the other hand, a negligent inaction could be something like when a doctor fails to notice fetal heart rate dropping during labor and fails to act quickly/correctly. If this failure to act resulted in a birth injury, they could also face a medical malpractice lawsuit.
A plaintiff must prove the four elements of negligence in order to have a successful personal injury case:
- Duty of Care: Every person owes a specific duty of care to each other. In other words, drivers must follow specific traffic laws in order to keep each other safe. Medical professionals must follow a strict medical standard of care in order to keep their patients safe and healthy.
- Breached Duty of Care: The person breached this duty of care by committing negligent actions or inactions.
- Causation: The resulting injuries, illness, or death was directly caused by the defendant’s negligent actions/inactions.
- Damages: The plaintiff suffered a variety of damages for which they should receive financial compensation and justice.
Personal injury lawyers are supposed to gather sufficient evidence on behalf of the plaintiff that prove these elements of negligence.
What is the Reasonable Person Standard?
The reasonable person standard and the legal standard of care – mentioned previously – are basically the same thing. The reasonable person standard is an objective test that asks whether or not a reasonable person – or an “ordinary person” – would act the same way as the defendant did if they were in the same situation. Ideally, the reasonably prudent person would be of the same age and same profession as the defendant.
A reasonable person will generally weigh all the following factors before acting:
- What is the foreseeable risk of harm that my actions will create?
- What is the extent of the risk my actions will create?
- What is the likelihood that these risks will actually harm other people?
- What type of actions, that have lower risks, could I possibly take instead? What is the cost of these alternative actions?
A reasonable adult who silently asks these questions must have adequate knowledge of the law, must be capable, and must be fair-minded. A reasonably prudent person might have to take extraordinary actions in certain circumstances, but these extraordinary actions would still be reasonable in such circumstances.
Medical Malpractice Example
Let’s put this in the context of a medical malpractice case. All medical professionals must abide by a strict medical standard of care. This basically means that all doctors must provide adequate and timely medical care for all medical conditions, regardless of the patient’s financial situation.
If a doctor acts negligently, resulting in an injured plaintiff, then medical malpractice lawyers would bring in what’s called an “expert witness” to help determine whether or not the defendant’s conduct was actually negligent. The expert witness must be of the same profession as the defendant. So if the defendant is a chiropractor who caused a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) during a spinal manipulation, then the expert witness would have to be a chiropractor as well.
The expert witness would have to examine the details of the case and determine whether or not they – or another doctor in the same medical profession – would have acted the same way the defendant did under similar circumstances. If the expert witness believes that they (or another doctor) would not have acted the same way in these certain circumstances, then there is a chance that the defendant acted negligently.
Personal Injury Example
The reasonable person standard can be applied to most personal injury cases as well. Let’s use the example of a drunk driving accident.
Let’s say someone is intoxicated after partying all night. They failed to arrange a ride with a designated driver before the party, because they told themselves: “I’m not going to drink that much anyway.” They try to ask other party-goers for a ride, but everyone’s cars are already full. Instead of calling a friend or even calling an Uber, the drunk party-goer gets behind the wheel of their own car and crashes into someone else on the way home. The other driver suffers catastrophic injuries as a result.
Getting behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is considered negligent no matter the situation. A reasonable person would arrange a ride with a designated driver after a night of partying or, if they’re really in a bind, they would call a friend or an Uber. Applying this objective standard of care will generally result in legal liability on behalf of the drunk driver.
Exceptions to the Reasonable Person Standard
There are a few exceptions to the reasonable person standard, and they are: being a child, mental disability, and physical disability.
Occasionally, children do commit crimes and act negligently. In cases like this, courts can’t hold children to an adult standard of care. Instead, courts hold children to a modified standard of care. This is because children are often too young and naive to understand the gravity of what they have done. They cannot make rational, knowledgeable, risk-informed decisions at the same level as a typical adult. So a jury would likely determine whether other children of the similar age and intelligence would have acted the same way in a similar situation.
Severe mental illness and cognitive disabilities can definitely result in poor judgment and limited control over actions/impulses. For example, if a person’s mental disability results in the following issues, their criminal/civil charges may be dropped:
- The mental disability impacts a person’s ability to understand the risks and responsibilities surrounding an accident.
- The mental disability causes a person to have little control over their words and actions.
So, mentally disabled people generally cannot be held to the same standard as any other typical person.
Similarly to the last exception, a physically disabled person may not be held to the same standard of care as a typical person. The physically disabled person must be paralyzed, blind, and/or deaf. In a personal injury case in which the defendant is physically disabled, they would be held to the same standard as someone else with a similar disability.
Call Albany Personal Injury Lawyers at Bailey, Johnson & Peck Today
If you or someone you love suffered a major illness, injury, or death due to someone else’s negligence, you may have grounds to pursue legal action. The Albany legal team at Bailey, Johnson, & Peck has the skill and experience necessary to take on all sorts of cases, such as medical malpractice cases, birth injury cases, car accident cases, wrongful death cases, and so much more. Call 518-456-0082 to schedule a free consultation at our law firm today.