The Standard of Care for Negligence
When you have been injured because of the wrongful act of another person, there are a number of different legal theories upon which a lawsuit may be based. In some instances, you can show that the defendant engaged in conduct with the specific intent to cause you harm. However, as a practical matter, most personal injury claims are the result of accidents, and are based on the legal theory of negligence.
To succeed with a lawsuit based on the legal theory of negligence, you must prove three things in court:
- The defendant breached (failed to meet) the legally recognized standard of care
- That breach caused the accident
- As a result of the accident, you suffered some actual loss
Let’s look more closely at the first element above—the standard of care.
As the law has evolved over centuries, all persons in society, in their daily actions, are expected to exercise a certain standard of care. Whether you are driving a car, building a consumer product, maintaining real property or manufacturing a product, the law presumes that you will conduct yourself as a reasonable person would.
It’s important to understand, however, that the law does not specifically identify what qualifies as reasonable conduct. The closest it has come is to define reasonable conduct as that which would be employed by an “average person of ordinary prudence.” Accordingly, the determination of whether or not the defendant acted reasonably, i.e., met the standard of care, is determined on a case-by-case basis by the jury.
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