reasonable person

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A legal standard applied to defendants in negligence cases to ascertain their liability. All members of the community owe a duty to act as a reasonable person in undertaking or avoiding actions with the risk to harm others. If an individual fails to act as a reasonable person and their failure injures someone, they may be liable to that person for such injuries. Whether a person met the standard of a reasonable person is often a question of fact for the jury to determine—thus leaving the determination of whether an individual acted reasonably for twelve members of the community.

In 1837, in the famous case of Vaughn v. Menlove, an English court of common pleas firmly established that, in the common law, the reasonable person standard is objective, as opposed to subjective. In that case, a farmer piled a haystack near his neighbor’s cabin, which subsequently caught fire and burned his neighbor’s cabin down. The farmer argued that he should not be liable since he genuinely did not consider that the haystack may cause his neighbor’s cabin to burn down. The court nevertheless held him liable, since the jury found that his actions were objectively unreasonable, thereby holding him to the standard of a reasonable person. However, not everyone is expected to conform to the general reasonable person standard. In Robert v. Ring, the Minnesota Supreme Court held a seven-year-old boy to the standard of an objective seven-year-old boy, not to that of an adult. In Fletcher v. Aberdeen, the Supreme Court of Washington held that a blind person should be held to the objective reasonable standard of a blind person, not to a sighted person.

[Last updated in August 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]