In personal injury, and in many areas of law, the reasonableness of another party’s actions is based on a legal standard known as the “reasonable person” standard. The “reasonable person” standard asks the question, “would a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances have acted in the same way?”
In order to determine whether or not the person’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances, evidence surrounding the accident that caused the injury will need to be gathered and analyzed by your attorney. The account of the events from witnesses and reports from insurance companies, private investigators reports, and any other documents or pictures will make up what become the “facts of the case”.
The facts of the case help narrow the issues that are left to be resolved. Any facts that are agreed upon are uncontested facts. Contested facts are “fact issues” for trial or some other avenue such as mediation or arbitration.
The reasonableness standard is judged by jury. They are the trier of facts. Once each side has presented their “case in chief”, or in a nutshell, “their case”, the jury deliberates. Once the uncontested facts have been taken out, and the contested facts have been argued, the jury is left to determine which contested facts are more likely than not and based on those facts whether a reasonable person would have acted the way that the opposing party did under the circumstances. If they determine that a reasonable person would not have acted that way, then that person will have been found negligent. If the jury comes down the other way, then the defendant will have been found not negligent under the circumstances.
The burden of proof in negligence cases is by a preponderance of the evidence. Which means that each element of the plaintiffs claim must be more likely than not. On a percentage scale of 0-100, preponderance is at least 51%. So when the jury is deliberating these facts, they are applying them to the elements of negligence.
Negligence, in general has five elements that must be proved. Many will try to say it is four, but it is five that they end up trying to prove.
In order to show that a person has been negligent by a preponderance of the evidence, one must show that the defendant (1) owed a duty to the plaintiff, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) they were the actual cause of the plaintiffs injury, (4) they were the most proximate cause of the injury, and (5) the plaintiff has actual damages as a result of the injury.
While the plaintiff must show that all of the elements of negligence have been met in order to succeed on their cause of action, the defendant only needs to negate one of the plaintiff’s elements. For instance, one of the first arguments that the defense will make is that there was no duty. Then they will say they breached no duty, and on top of that, they were not the actual or proximate cause. It is a logical flow through the elements.
It is all based on the reasonable person. It is a big contest based on proving whether or not the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances. It is not the phrase that is complicated, it is the system. So, when you hear the phrase “reasonable person”, understand that it is as simple as it sounds, but what it is trying to prove is as complicated as could possibly be.
If you have suffered from a personal injury and have questions, feel free to contact our office to schedule a personal 30-minute in office or by phone consultation with an experience attorney.