Negligence and the Reasonable Person Standard
This article will discuss the application of negligence with regards to the reasonable person standard. According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute negligence is defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. The behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act.” The definition points to “someone of ordinary prudence” or a ‘reasonable person’ as referred to in other definitions. In an ordinary negligence case, for example, a car accident case the test for negligence is whether a hypothetical ‘ordinary person’ would have been more careful in a similar situation.
The defendant’s age, background, mental condition, knowledge or abilities and experience are not relevant in testing for negligence. Rather, the defendant is judged based on the jury’s idea of what is normal within the community as a whole.
To put this into perspective consider the following example:
It is generally accepted in society that alcohol when consumed in large quantities impairs a person’s reaction time and coordination. Both a person’s reaction time and coordination are two faculties that are necessary for operating a motor vehicle. Therefore, a ‘hypothetical normal person’ would acknowledge the risks to others of driving after drinking and would opt not to. However, people who ignore or fail to consider the risks of alcohol and driving are considered negligent in an accident. Therefore, if an average person would be more careful in the same situation then the defendant is considered legally negligent.
It must be noted that car accidents are just one example of when negligence may arise. The purpose of negligence laws is to hold someone responsible when they break the social codes people depend on.