The Reasonable Person Standard in Texas Negligence Law

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What is the legal standard used to determine if someone is at fault for an accident? In Texas, the standard is the reasonable person standard.

The Haun Mena Houston personal injury attorneys explain the reasonable person standard in Texas negligence law.

What Is the Reasonable Person Standard?

The reasonable person standard in Texas negligence law is the standard used to determine if someone is legally at fault for an accident. If a person is legally at fault, they may be liable to pay compensation. The standard is a minimum. To avoid legal liability, someone’s behavior must meet or exceed the reasonable person standard.

Why do we use the reasonable person standard?

The law can’t anticipate everything that’s going to happen in advance. No two accidents are exactly alike. Even when they are similar, they involve different people, occur at different times, and have slight differences in the details. No matter how specific our laws are, they can’t possibly fully list every circumstance where an accident may occur and who may be at fault.

Still, we need a standard to evaluate accidents so that victims may seek justice. The standard we use in Texas is the reasonable person standard.

The reasonable person standard says that when a person has a duty of care, they must act as a reasonable person would in the same circumstances. It’s a flexible test that is determined on a case-by-case basis. If a person fails to live up to the standard, they are negligent, and they may owe a victim compensation.

Texas Reasonable Person Laws

  • The reasonably prudent person is the standard for determining whether a party breached their duty of care. It is a flexible standard applied to the circumstances of the case.

  • A person must exercise the care of a reasonable person. Failing to exercise reasonable care is negligence. Galveston City Ry. Co. v. Hewitt, 3 S.W. 705, 707 (Tex. 1887).

  • Even if someone has the right of way at an intersection, they must exercise caution commensurate with reasonable prudence. The driver should look for hazards and proceed with caution, even if they arrive at the intersection first and have the right of way. Lewis v. Martin, 120 S.W.2d 910 (Tex. Civ. App. 1938).

  • Conduct that may be unreasonable in other circumstances may be reasonable in an emergency. Del Bosque v. Heitmann Bering-Cortes Company, 474 S.W.2d 450 (Tex.1971).

  • When a person encounters an emergency, the jury may judge their subsequent conduct considering the emergency. Barkley v. Dudley, 495 S.W.2d 280 (Tex. Civ. App. 1973).

What is the standard for what a reasonable person would do?

The standard for what a reasonable person would do is specific to each circumstance. In general, reasonable people obey the laws. They mitigate risks to prevent harm.

A reasonable person is sensible. They do what is proper and appropriate, and they act cautiously. It isn’t a standard of perfection. We don’t look back at the accident with hindsight, exploring everything someone could have done differently. Rather, the legal standard is whether a person acted reasonably given the facts and circumstances.

Is the reasonable person’s standard objective or subjective?

The reasonable person standard is objective. The test is not what the person thought at the time. What they were thinking doesn’t matter. Instead, it’s what a person of ordinary prudence would have done. The standard accounts for the information the person had at the time, but it’s not limited by the subjective opinion of the actor.

Who decides the reasonable person standard?

The fact finder, usually the jury, applies the reasonable person standard. They look at the evidence presented to determine the facts. Then, they determine who acted reasonably.

Negligence Per Se and the Reasonable Person Standard

What if a person broke a law? Is that automatically negligence?

When there is a law that applies to a set of circumstances, the law becomes a reasonable person standard. The law is what a reasonably prudent person would have done. Unless the defense offers an excuse, the only question the jury must answer is whether the person violated the law. If the answer is yes, the person acted negligently.

For example, in Texas, there is a law against driving on the wrong side of the road. If someone drives on the wrong side of the road, they act negligently. L.M.B. Corp. v. Gurecky, 501 S.W.2d 300 (Tex. 1973).

Are there any exceptions to the reasonable person standard?

When a person is especially young, or when they are disabled, there may be a modified standard to determine whether the person acted reasonably. The standard is still to behave reasonably. However, the fact finder can account for the person’s age or disability when they determine whether the person acted reasonably. Dallas Ry. & Terminal v. Rogers, 218 S.W.2d 456, 458 (Tex. 1949).

In addition, in the context of medical malpractice, the reasonable person is a medical professional with similar training and specialty. A professional standard may apply in other cases involving professional negligence.

How Does an Attorney Prove the Reasonable Person Standard?

To prove the reasonable person standard, an attorney presents evidence and makes arguments to the jury. The attorney may present evidence of:

  • Potential risks and benefits of a certain course of action
  • Standard or common practices in similar situations
  • Information regarding how difficult it would have been to do something different
  • Expert testimony and opinions
  • Laws or regulations that may have been violated

In addition, the attorney makes arguments to the jury, comparing a reasonable person to the actions of the defendant. They must ask the court for the appropriate jury instructions so that the jury can correctly apply the law.

Proving your injury case

The reasonable person standard is a critical element in any Texas negligence case. Remember that it is only one element in a Texas negligence case. The victim must prove that the defendant had a duty of care. They must show that the person breached the duty of care by acting negligently or failing to act as a reasonable person.

In addition, they must show that the defendant’s actions caused the accident. They must identify their damages. A plaintiff must prove each element to make their claim successful.

Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer

Have you been hurt in an accident? Do you have questions about the reasonable person standard in Texas negligence law? We invite you to contact Haun Mena and talk to a lawyer.

Let’s talk about the specifics of your case and how our law firm may help you claim compensation. Contact us today for your consultation.

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