Negligence is a term that refers to an act or the failure to act in a specific way that causes someone to be injured. Everyday mishaps happen; that is why they are called “accidents.” The legal term for negligence involves the idea of a “standard of care.” What distinguishes a common accident from an accident involving negligence is that a standard of care is required. If someone negates the proper standard of conduct of care, then they may be at fault for any injury that results from their actions or their failure to act.
The way that a “standard of care” is determined is that it is presumed that a reasonable person would act in a certain way during any given circumstances. If someone fails to do what a “reasonable person” would do, then they may be negligent for any injury caused. For example, if someone is driving a car while intoxicated and they hit a pedestrian, they would be considered neglectful. The presumption is that a reasonable person will not drive under the influence because it is against the law.
What might seem reasonable to one person may not to another, because people are different and there is no set definition of what a “normal” person does in different situations. Many people think they know what they would do under specific circumstances, but hindsight is a very clear thing. Typically when an accident happens, the details may not seem clear, nor is the story an exact account of what happened.
The definition of a reasonable person
Just like there is no such thing as “normal,” the definition of a “reasonable person” is a very gray area in legal terms. Created from social mores, a “reasonable person” demonstrates the “ideal” way that someone should act in a situation. What the law knows is that rarely does a person act perfectly, especially in stressful or unexpected circumstances. That is why the legal term defines what the “typical person” would do. The problem is that not everyone is typical. When ascribing negligence, the law does not factor in things like someone’s limited mental capacity or their intelligence.
That is why there is a jury of peers to determine whether a defendant acted reasonably. Their job is to take into account all the factors related to the situation and determine if the defendant acted appropriately. Not everyone sees an accident from the same perspective as a concussion attorney, which is why there are twelve jurors whose job it is to come to a consensus as to what is “reasonable.”
Children’s Standards of Care
A child is not generally expected to act like a reasonable person would. Instead, there is a modification that the court uses to apply negligence to the acts of a minor. Under such standards, a child’s actions are measured with what their cohorts would have likely done. In some jurisdictions, however, if a child engages in adult activities like driving, they can be held accountable to the same “reasonable person” presumptions as an adult.
As an example, if a minor is driving a car and gets into an accident, he or she might be compared to other adults who are driving. If the accident happens because they were texting on the phone, they would be held as accountable as an adult. In some jurisdictions, the definition of an adult is 18 years old, while in other jurisdictions the definition is not so clear-cut.
When there is an accident, it is not always easy to find fault. There are times when someone simply doesn’t have the capacity to know right from wrong, or they have a lower intelligence than a reasonable person. That is why it is a judge and jury’s duty to determine whether or not a person can be held liable for their actions.
In personal injury suits, there is a lot more leeway when it comes to ascribing negligence. When criminal actions are involved and it carries stiffer penalties, than things such as mental capacity and the ability to know right from wrong become much more important to the overall picture.