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What does the reasonable person standard mean in Massachusetts?

When bringing a negligence suit in the Commonwealth, a typical suit has four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. In establishing the first element of duty, the Commonwealth has established that every person has a duty to others to exercise reasonable care. But just what does the “reasonable person standard” mean?

“Reasonable care” is a type of care that is used by an ordinarily “prudent person in similar circumstances.” The reasonable person standard is determined based on “what would the reasonable person … have done under the same circumstances as those in which the defendant found himself.” While the reasonable person standard remains the same across all negligence torts, the amount of care required to be given can vary based on certain situations.

For example, in a recent Commonwealth case, Bernier v. Smitty's Sports Pub, Inc., a defendant bar owner breached his duty of care to a senior citizen patron who died when falling down a concrete stairwell. In that case, the court found evidence that while the plaintiff intended to go to the bathroom, he mistakenly opened door marked “Employees Only.” Normally, it was the bar's usual business practice to keep the “Employees Only” door locked during business hours but door was unlocked, and this door led an unlit stairwell to a two and one-half feet drop to cellar stairs. Because all the doors for the bathroom and the employees looked similar and were close together, the bar owner had a duty to his patrons to differentiate them.

The Court has also held that medical providers are held to the same standard of a reasonable medical provider in the same situation. For example, in Leavitt v. Brockton Hosp., Inc., the Court determined that a medical provider does not owe a duty to a non-patient that tried to detain a sedated patient in its care to prevent this type of patient from leaving the hospital.

Additionally, the reasonable person standard can be affected by a person’s physical disability or their age. As one example, if an individual has a physical disability such as blindness or deafness, the standard of care to which he or she must conform is that of a reasonable person with that same disability. Unlike physical ailments, individuals with mental disabilities, such as personality disorders or autism, are not held to a reasonable person standard.

Unlike adults, children are held to a different standard of care. A child must conform to a reasonable person standard for children with a similar age, intelligence and experience. An exception to this standard is when a child engages in an activity which would require the skills of an adult, such as operating a motor vehicle. In these cases, a child is held to the reasonable person standard of a person of a prudent person under the same circumstances.

If you need more information about the reasonable person stand or about personal injury law generally, you may schedule a free consultation with our office. Call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours or complete a contact form and we will respond to your phone call or submission promptly.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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