standard of care

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Standard of care is an essential concept in determining whether a person was negligent and potentially liable for a tort. If a person breaches the standard that applies to them and their actions cause harm to another person, they will be liable for negligence. 

The standard of care usually revolves around the concept of the reasonable person standard: whether someone acted with care as the average person would have in those circumstances. In some circumstances, the concept applies very easily. For example, a reasonable person would not drive after taking medication that causes hallucinations for half the people that take the medication. If a person were to drive under those circumstances, they would have breached the standard of care. In other cases, the situations are harder to determine. If a person took medication that causes hallucinations for 1 in 1,000 people, the reasonable person arguably may or may not drive under those circumstances. 

In most cases, the standard of care is just that of the reasonable person, but in some cases, a different standard will apply. Children receive a lower standard of care than an adult based on how a reasonable child of the same age would act. Higher or broader standards of care apply to professionals and people of authority. For example, a doctor will be evaluated under the reasonable standard of a doctor for their medical work. This differentiation is necessary because a doctor or lawyer would get away with many things if held to the standards of an average person. 

[Last updated in September of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]