Jill Kolodner | March 9, 2022 | Personal Injury
Most personal injury cases in Baltimore are based on negligence claims. Negligence is the failure to act with reasonable care. However, what is the basis for reasonableness in a personal injury case?
Jury members base the standard of care in a negligence claim on what a “reasonable person” would do in the same situation. However, the standard changes depending on the circumstances of the case.
What is Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?
- Duty of care;
- Breach of duty;
- Causation; and
The reasonable person standard is used in the second element of negligence to determine if the defendant breached the duty of care.
How Does a Jury Define What a “Reasonable Person” Would Do in a Situation?
Before a jury can determine whether the defendant breached the duty of care, they must decide what standard of care applies given the facts of the case. For example, when a driver is approaching an intersection and the light changes to yellow, what is the driver’s duty of care? The jurors decide the standard of care based on what a reasonable person would do in the situation.
The jury may decide that a reasonable person would slow down and prepare to stop for the red light. Speeding up to “beat” the light could result in a collision. Therefore, if a car accident occurs because the driver sped up to beat the red light, the jurors might conclude that the driver breached the duty of care.
The standard of care is based on the situation. Therefore, what is considered “reasonable” is judged on a case-by-case basis. Jurors may debate what a reasonably prudent person would have done if they were the defendant.
Children are an exception to the reasonable person standard. Most children do not have the maturity, experience, or understanding to act in the same manner as a reasonably prudent adult. Therefore, when jurors must apply the reasonable person standard to a child, the child’s actions are based on what a child of similar experience and age would have done in the same situation.
Foreseeable Risk is an Essential Element of the Reasonable Personal Standard
A party is generally not held liable for injuries and harm that they could not reasonably foresee. In other words, the risk of harm to another person needs to be a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct.
For instance, a property owner who fails to repair broken stairs at an apartment complex could reasonably foresee that the broken steps could injure someone. Therefore, they may be liable under premises liability laws if their conduct falls short of the reasonable person standard. Likewise, a person driving under the influence of alcohol could reasonably foresee that drunk driving could result in a car crash that injures another person.
Defendants generally cannot be held liable for things they can’t control or reasonably foresee. If their actions are reasonable, the fact that someone was injured may not be sufficient to prove a breach of duty.
Proving the Defendant Breached the Duty of Care by Acting Unreasonably
The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s actions breached the duty of care. A Baltimore personal injury lawyer must prove several crucial elements to establish a breach of duty:
- The defendant could reasonably foresee that their conduct could result in harm or injury to another person
- A reasonable person would have acted differently given the circumstances, including specific alternative conduct a reasonably prudent person would have taken in the situation
- The defendant’s failure to act with reasonable care was the direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
- The plaintiff suffered damages because of the defendant’s unreasonable conduct
The plaintiff must prove the elements of a negligence claim by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that things happened the way the plaintiff alleged. In other words, there is a greater than 50% chance that the defendant acted negligently and that negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries and damages.
Maryland’s Contributory Negligence Laws Override Breaches of the Standard of Care
It doesn’t matter whether the defendant’s conduct failed to meet the reasonable person standard if the plaintiff was partially to blame for the cause of the accident. Maryland has adopted the harsh standard of pure contributory fault.
If the plaintiff’s conduct contributed in any way to the cause of their injury, Maryland law bars the plaintiff from receiving any money for their damages. Therefore, even if the defendant was 99% to blame for the cause of an accident and the plaintiff was only 1% to blame, the plaintiff would receive no compensation for their injury claim.
Insurance companies often take advantage of this harsh contributory negligence standard to avoid paying valid personal injury claims. Therefore, we strongly suggest you seek legal advice from an experienced Baltimore personal injury lawyer at William G. Kolodner Personal Injury Lawyers immediately if the other party or the insurance company suggests you could be partially at fault for the cause of your accident.