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Reasonable Man Doctrine

The reasonable man doctrine refers to a theory in which the behavior of an accused individual is compared to how a hypothetical person, or “reasonable man,” would respond to the same set of circumstances. This doctrine is used in tort cases, such as personal injury, medical malpractice, or nursing home abuse cases, to show negligence on behalf of the defendant. It is also used in criminal cases, particularly in regards to claims of self-defense, when a jury would be asked to consider whether or not a “reasonable man” would fear for his life if put in the same situation.

How Is the Doctrine Applied?

The reasonable man doctrine is also known as the reasonable person doctrine, the reasonable person standard, or the prudent man rule. It represents a morally conscious and legally appropriate way that society would expect a person to act. When a judge or jury is asked to apply the reasonable man doctrine, they often do so in light of what the defendant knows, understands, or perceives. For example, when considering a personal injury case in which the staff of a nursing facility is accused of allowing a resident’s bed sores to lead to an infection, the jury might consider:

  • Did the staff know that the resident had bed sores? This would be considered actual knowledge of the problem.
  • Did the staff understand that medical intervention was necessary in order to prevent these bed sores from becoming infected?
  • Did the staff member respond to the resident’s medical condition in the same way that any other person with the same experience, knowledge, and responsibility would respond?

Is the Reasonable Man Really the “Perfect Man?”

It is often asked if the reasonable man standard refers to how a perfect person would respond to a specific set of circumstances. This is not the case and is in fact a common misconception. Because the factors of knowledge and understanding are addressed in the application of the reasonable man doctrine, this would mean that the hypothetical person is not a perfect person. He is, rather, an average one. This is a person who is risk-conscious and thoughtful about looking out for dangers. He (or she) does not, however, have the ability to predict the future.

The doctrine is an objective one, as the standard of reasonable behavior varies depending on the age and life experience of the person to which it is being compared. For example, what is considered a reasonable way for a doctor to respond to a situation is not the same as what is considered reasonable for a child or unskilled adult to respond to the same situation.

When those who are asked to apply the reasonable man doctrine consider the actions of a defendant, one question that may arise is whether or not there was an emergency involved. It is well-documented that people respond to emergencies differently than they might otherwise, and that is taken into consideration. However, failing to anticipate an emergency may constitute negligence in some cases. In the case of nursing home abuse or neglect, it would be a reasonable expectation that skilled staff members, including physicians and nurses, would anticipate emergencies and take necessary precautions to prevent them.

Concepts Related to the Reasonable Man Doctrine

The following are some other legal concepts that relate to the reasonable man doctrine:

  • Negligence: careless or reckless behavior. The failure to provide the standard of care expected in the situation.
  • Standard of care: the care that would be provided by a reasonable person in the same set of circumstances.
  • General duty of reasonable care: the duty that is imposed on all individuals to not place others into foreseeable harm due to their conduct. This duty varies depending on age, experience, and ability.
  • Breach of duty: when one has failed to provide the standard of care that is expected of a person in his or her position.
  • Statutory standard of care: where a statute exists in order to govern behavior and was created to prevent a type of harm from occurring in order to protect a class of persons from being harmed. For example, there are state and federal statutes that govern the standard of care that is required in nursing facilities.
  • Medical malpractice: negligence by a medical professional.
  • Informed consent: whether or not a reasonable patient, fully advised of the risks of a medical treatment, would have consented to that treatment.
  • Foresight test: designed to limit recovery in negligence cases to only those harms that were foreseeable and preventable and are the product of the defendant’s negligence.

If you or your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect in a nursing facility, you may qualify to recover compensation. Call us today for a free consultation and case review at 1-800-516-4783.


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