What’s a Reasonable Person?

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People often speak of “common sense” or otherwise make appeals to what a normal, sensible person would do. It doesn’t take much thinking, however, to realize how difficult to define a “reasonable person” really is. Since the idea of a reasonable person has proven important in criminal law, lawyers and judges have gone to lengths to understand how exactly such a person would behave.

Given the work legal experts have put into that definition, it’s important for any layman trying to understanding criminal law to understand how exactly a “reasonable person” is defined under the law. In particular, if you find yourself for whatever reason involved in a criminal case, understanding this definition can make it easier to understand the whole process.

Strictly speaking, the “reasonable person” is what’s called a legal fiction: a hypothetical thing or notion that’s useful for understanding and formulating laws. Of course, since this person is hypothetical, there isn’t, say, a specific person lawyers point to as being the epitome of “reasonable.” The fictional reasonable person, being unreal, needs to be created and defined.

Usually the reasonable person is invoked in cases that involve negligence and intent. Sometimes the result of a legal case comes down to demonstrating whether or not the person accused was acting intentionally and reasonably, and in these situations it can become necessary to appeal to the reasonable person. An example might help.

Let’s imagine two friends: Alice and Beth. Alice is trying to clean the gutters on her house, but she’s having trouble getting her ladder to stay in place. She decides it might help to have someone hold the ladder for her and phones her friend Beth. Beth comes over and helps keep the base of the ladder steady while Alice works.

For some reason, Beth lets go of the ladder. Alice falls and breaks her arm, leading to expensive medical bills. Now let’s imagine Alice decides to take Beth to court to sue for damages to pay for the bills. The court has a few major questions to answer: did Beth let go on purpose? If not, did she have a good reason to? Did she even realize that would happen?

Let’s assume Beth doesn’t have a vendetta against her friend. This way we can sidestep the question of whether Beth let go on purpose. The main issue now is whether or not she had a good reason to let go. This is where the court appeals to the reasonable person.

If Beth let go because the neighbor’s dog attacked her, she could argue that she had to let go to defend herself. In that case, the court might rule that she was acting reasonably. In this situation, most people would do what’s necessary to defend themselves. If that results in Beth letting go of the ladder, the fall is an unfortunate consequence of Beth’s natural reaction.

On the other hand, if Beth lets go to pet the neighbor’s dog, the court might find her guilty of criminal negligence. A reasonable person, the court might argue, would realize that letting go of a ladder to pet a dog is a dangerous idea and could result in a fall. If she had been petting the dog, Beth would probably have a hard time defending herself. After all, she was invited over because the ladder was unsteady.

Whether or not ladders and neighborhood dogs are involved, you might find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself against criminal charges. Whatever the charges might be, there’s a decent chance the idea of a reasonable person will become important at some point. Understanding what that means can help you understand your predicament.

Of course the idea of a reasonable person is far more complicated than a brief, non-technical article allows. For that reason, a personal injury lawyer can be invaluable in understanding these situations. They have the background necessary to work within the intricacies of the legal system.

If you’ve been injured and think someone’s negligence led to your injury, seek the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer. A good personal injury lawyer understands the concept of the reasonable person, and can use that and other legal tools and ideas to help you recover from your injury.

If you live in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee personal injury lawyers of Habush Habush & Rottier, SC are among the most skilled and experienced. They can help you pull the pieces back together after your injury.

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