Who is a reasonable person?  Accompanied by an image of a Judge's gavel

We all know reasonable people and unreasonable people. Often, the same person is reasonable or unreasonable depending on the circumstances, and what may seem reasonable to one person is unreasonable to another.

Given this subjectivity, it may seem strange that the legal concept of negligence is based on what a reasonable person would do. So, what does reasonable mean, and who decides what reasonable is in the personal injury context?

The Reasonable Person Standard

The reasonable person standard isn’t based on anyone you know. Instead, the reasonable person is a fictitious person.

Once the court determines that the defendant owed you a duty of care, the court will decide whether the defendant breached the duty of care by failing to act like a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. Ultimately, it is up to the judge or jury to decide what a reasonable person would have done.

The injured party, or the plaintiff, has the burden of proof in a personal injury case. Therefore, you have the right to present evidence to the court about what a reasonable person would have done to avoid your accident. For example, you may provide evidence that:

  • The potential harm was foreseeable. For example, a reasonable person knows that driving through a red light, texting and driving, or failing to fix a broken stair could lead to injury. A person who runs a red light, texts and drives, or neglects repairs might not have acted reasonably for purposes of personal injury law.
  • The defendant knew, or should have known, the actions could cause injury. Some actions are so egregious that a reasonable person knows they are likely to cause injury. For example, reasonable people know that drunk driving causes car crashes. Therefore, reasonable people do not drink and drive.
  • The defendant could have taken other actions to prevent the accident. In some situations, people have choices. A property owner may choose whether to clean up a spill or wait for it to dry, for example. The court may consider the defendant’s options prior to the accident.

Additionally, the court may consider things such as age, ability, and profession when deciding whether the defendant acted reasonably.

If your personal injury lawyer convinces the court that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to act like a reasonable person, then the court will determine if the defendant caused your accident injuries and if you are entitled to legal damages.

What Happens If the Defendant Did Not Act Like a Reasonable Person

If you can prove that the defendant did not act like a reasonable person, then the court will consider whether the defendant caused your accident and resulting injuries. You may recover personal injury damages if you prove that you would not have suffered injuries but for the defendant’s negligent actions or inactions.

Once you establish that the defendant: (1) owed you a duty of care; (2) failed to act like a reasonably prudent person would in similar circumstances; and (3) caused your injuries, you may be able to recover legal damages.

Your legal damages may include, but are not limited to past and future:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost income
  • Physical pain
  • Emotional suffering
  • Out-of-pocket expenses caused by the accident

These damages won’t undo your accident injuries, but they can help prevent financial ruin after a personal injury accident.

Let Our Personal Injury Lawyers Fight for Your Fair Recovery

Your recovery is important, and our experienced personal injury lawyers will fight to get you the damages that you deserve when someone else’s negligence causes your accident injuries.

Insurance companies throughout Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois know that we mean business and are often willing to settle our client’s claims. They know that if they fail to offer fair settlements, we will not hesitate to go to trial.

We invite you to contact us today to learn more about your rights and potential recovery. We would be happy to provide you with a free consultation in any of our 11 Midwest personal injury law offices, in your home or hospital room, by phone, or by video conference. Contact us today to learn more.


Jason F. Abraham
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Helping car accident and personal injury victims throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa since 1993.