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The Reasonable Person Standard When it Comes to Negligence 

By: Anapol Weiss

The reasonable person standard is a key factor in any negligence case. It provides the basis for actions that should have been taken by the defendant, helping to illustrate their liability. While in many cases an example of a reasonable person standard seems like common sense, in others it relies on a careful understanding of the position the defendant was in and the context surrounding the negligent action. Understanding this principle will help you have more appropriate expectations about your specific situation and help you build a stronger legal case.

What is the ‘Reasonable Person’ Standard?

In a negligence case, the defendant’s actions are compared to those of a reasonable person faced with the same situation and surrounding context. If the defendant did not meet this standard of care, duty, or safety, then they were negligent in their actions.

Is There Such A Thing As A Reasonable Person?

The reasonable person standard is meant to give an objective tool to measure a defendant’s actions against, but is often not found as a real person in and of itself. Rather it is a concept composed of an ideal and average individual, which is meant to isolate it from the more subjective nature of an individual’s actions. The definition of a reasonable person under this standard, however, can shift somewhat depending on the context of the situation.


Children are frequently cited as the main exception to the reasonable person standard. Because younger people lack the development and experience expected in an adult, they are usually held to a standard based on their general age and what an average child within that age group would choose to do in a given situation.


A person who lacks the mental or physical capacity to act as a reasonable person cannot be held to that standard, although in many cases there is a person in a custodial role who may then be liable. As an example, a developmentally disabled adult who causes a personal injury might not be liable for damages, but their aide who is responsible for their safety and supervision may be.

Professional Obligation

Authority figures and high-level professionals, such as police officers, doctors, or wealth advisors, often carry responsibilities outside those of your average reasonable person standard and have a level of training that is commensurate with the expectations their job places on them, thus they are held to a higher standard. In a medical malpractice case, for example, rather than asking what a reasonable person would do, a jury or judge may measure a doctor’s actions against what a reasonable doctor, having a similar level of training and experience, would do.

The Observer’s Experience

Another way that subjective decisions could enter into the supposedly objective reasonable person standard is through the eyes of the person being asked to apply the standard in a court case. Every judge or juror brings with them a wealth of personal experiences. These personal experiences help them frame decisions about a reasonable action. In the example of the reasonable person standard as it might apply to a doctor given above, another physician sitting on the jury might see the action taken as more or less reasonable than an auto mechanic serving alongside her in the courtroom.

Applying the Reasonable Person Standard

As an example of this standard in effect, consider a common auto collision, the rear-ender. You’re at a stop sign, waiting for cross-traffic, when you hear a squeal of rubber behind you followed by the crashing impact of another vehicle striking your own. Your head slams violently back into the headrest as your car lurches forward. After putting the vehicle in park, you get out. Your neck is sore, you’re confused, and in the car behind you, the other driver is slowly unbuckling and opening their own door.

In this scenario, you were injured and your property was damaged through no fault of your own in a car accident. A successful personal injury case rests on proving three elements:

  • You were injured mentally, physically, financially, or otherwise by another party.

  • That party’s actions led directly to your injury.

  • The party that injured you had a responsibility to behave in a certain manner, also called a duty of care, that would have prevented the injury.

The duty of care should be thought of as the expected standard of behavior. A doctor has standards that must be met when treating patients. A grocery store manager has a duty of care to provide a safe place for customers to shop. On the road, you have a duty of care to follow traffic laws. These are baseline expectations we have when we get on the road, go to an emergency room, or shop for groceries.

The reasonable person standard is the actions a reasonable person fitting the context of the duty of care situation would have done. In our scenario, a reasonable driver would have been paying attention to the road in front of them and gently applied the breaks to stop at a suitable distance from your vehicle, which was already at the stop sign. Barring extenuating circumstances, that is how a reasonable person would meet their duty of care as a driver. In this example of the reasonable person standard, we see that the defendant’s actions were not reasonable, and they should be liable for your injuries and property loss.

Let Us Protect Your Rights To Compensation

When you’ve been injured by a negligent act, you should be compensated for the damages. Working with an experienced attorney can help you recoup the cost of medical bills, property damage, and the expense of rebuilding your life after a serious injury. Your attorney will file your claim, help build your case, negotiate with the defendant or their representatives, and argue for you in court.

The help you need starts with a free consultation with a Philadelphia attorney from Anapol Weiss. Your case becomes our cause as we work to understand your specific situation and needs, offer you the best path forward, and fight to protect your rights. Contact us today to start your claim.