If you’ve been injured and find yourself in the middle of a personal injury lawsuit, chances are you’ve heard the term reasonable care used along with the concept of negligence, like two pieces of the same puzzle.

But what is reasonable care, and how does it relate to negligence?

The Duty of Reasonable Care

Reasonable care is a duty that an ordinarily prudent and rational person would use in a circumstance similar to yours, and lack of reasonable care is a test used to determine negligence in a personal injury case.

Although nobody is perfect and accidents happen, what separates an ordinary accident from an act of negligence is the standard of care required in a certain situation. When someone fails to act according to the proper standard of care for a given situation, they may be found liable for any resulting injuries.

Regarding a car accident, a motorist is required to exercise the same care that a reasonable person would in the same situation: obey traffic laws; pay attention to the road, pedestrians, and other drivers; and refrain from driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

For example:

If a motorist is aware of the posted speed limit but chooses to disregard it by speeding and subsequently strikes a pedestrian in a crosswalk, he would be considered negligent because a reasonable person would obey the posted speed limits and know that a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right-of-way.

The Reasonable Person

The reasonable person standard is based on a fictional being: the “reasonable person.” It is an ideal that focuses on how an ordinary person with average caution would act in similar circumstances. The reasonable person test is an objective one that does not take into account the specific abilities of a defendant, so even a person who possesses low intelligence or is frequently careless will be held to the same standard as a more careful person of higher intelligence.

A jury usually decides whether a defendant has acted as a reasonable person would have, and typically considers the defendant’s conduct in light of what he actually knows, has experienced, or believes. A jury also considers the knowledge that should be common for everyone in a particular community.

What About Kids and the Disabled?

A child is understandably not expected to act as a reasonable adult would act, and courts hold children to a modified reasonable person standard. Under this standard, the actions of a child are compared with the conduct of other children of comparable age, experience, and intelligence, although some courts may apply the adult standard to children who engage in specific adult activities.

A person with a disability is held to the same standard of care that an ordinary reasonable person would assume if he suffered from that same disability, and physical handicaps and limitations are treated as part of the circumstances under which a reasonable person is expected to act. Courts do not hold a person with a mental disability subject to any special standard. They are held to the reasonable prudent person standard, except when the occurrence of mental illness is sudden and unforeseen.

Generally speaking, people can avoid being found negligent by exercising common sense and caution, and taking the appropriate (reasonable) steps to prevent accidents and injuries.

Image by Mike Kniec

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