What is Negligence?
Negligence is the basis for most personal injury claims. But what does the term negligence mean? “Negligence is the failure to exercise that degree of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the circumstances.” Morgan v. Lalumiere, 22 Mass. App. Ct. 262, 267 (1986). It is an important legal concept to understand if you have a personal injury case. One thing to notice about the definition is that it requires you to show a failure to exercise reasonable care on the part of the person or company that you are making the claim against. This means that you, as the claimant, must prove that someone did something wrong, which in turn caused your injury. If you cannot point to anything negligent about the person or company you are making the claim against, you do not have a viable claim. The mere fact that you were injured, while unfortunate, is not sufficient proof of negligence.
You may be wondering who is this fictitious “reasonable person” mentioned in the definition of negligence above. While “the dimensions of the reasonable person have remained vague . . . this person is characterized by common sense and moderation - a prudent, sensible, centrist member of society, who shares its understandings.” Anita Bernstein, Treating Sexual Harassment with Respect, 111 Harv. L. Rev. 445, 464-465 (1997). Despite this seemingly moderate characterization, a “reasonable person” in the negligence context never accelerates at a yellow light, does not text and drive, never drives over the speed limit, always puts sand and salt on his icy walkway, and always reads all of the instructions before using any product. Indeed, the “reasonable person” is probably more aptly described as an exemplary model citizen. Nevertheless, a court must have some standard to judge our behavior against, and so this annoyingly cautious, prudent, and careful “reasonable person” was developed.
If you have been injured, think about whether someone’s behavior fell below what a reasonable person’s behavior would be in those circumstances, and whether that deviation from a reasonable person’s behavior caused your injury. In many cases there are statutes, regulations, or other rules that help define what a reasonable person should do in certain circumstances. If you aren’t sure whether someone’s negligence caused your injury, you can give me a call and we can go over the facts of your case and how these concepts could apply. The consultation is free and I now have offices in both Boston and Hingham!