To succeed in a personal injury claim based on the theory of negligence, one of the crucial elements that must be met is that the defendant failed to meet his or her “duty of care.” A personal injury attorney in Orange County explains negligence’s standard, or duty, of care.
Basic Standard of Care
The standard of care (watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence) every person is obligated to abide by is to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself and others. Negligence is the failure to do so. Thus, a person can be negligent by:
- Doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation.
- Failing to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.
Who Is the Reasonable Person?
The “reasonable person” is a legal fictional person. He or she represents how an ideal person with ordinary prudence would typically act in the same circumstances. This is an objective standard that does not take into consideration any of the defendant’s characteristics or weaknesses. Thus, a person with low intelligence is held at the same standard as someone with higher intelligence. For example, a student driver learning to drive will be held at the same standard as a qualified driver. An inexperienced person doing his or her own carpentry work at home will be held to the same standard as a reasonably competent carpenter doing the same work.
Who Decides Who Is a Reasonable Person?
At trial, the jury generally determines whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person would have acted under the circumstances. The jury would consider:
- Defendant’s conduct in light of what the defendant actually knew, perceived, or experienced
- Defendant’s conduct in light of what the defendant should have known based upon a knowledge common within a community.
For example, a defendant owns a pool on his or her property but does not have a fence enclosure to prevent trespassers. A child trespassed on the defendant’s property and drowned in the pool. If the defendant knew that neighborhood children frequently trespassed on his property to swim in his pool without his permission, then the jury may find he was negligent (did not act as a reasonable person) for failing to enclose the pool behind a fence to prevent trespassers. If the defendant did not know children trespass on his property to swim in the pool, the jury may still find a reasonable person would understand the natural propensities of children who could trespass to swim in an unenclosed pool. In both cases, the defendant acted negligently by failing to enclose his or her pool irrespective of whether the defendant had actual knowledge that children were using the pool without permission.
Standard of Care for Children
Children are generally not expected to act like a reasonable adult would under the circumstances. Instead, children are held to a modified standard: the child’s actions are compared with the conduct of other children of the same age, experience and intelligence. However, a personal injury attorney in Orange County has seen courts applying the adult standard when children are engaged in adult activities, such as driving.
Seek a Personal Injury Attorney in Orange County
To receive a comprehensive understanding of your potential personal injury claim, consult a seasoned personal injury attorney in Orange County with Russell & Lazarus APC at (949) 851-0222.