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The Reasonable Person Standard

In Torts, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how intentional an action was. Even if it was unintentional, how do we determine if it caused an actual harm? Someone may think that they have suffered a wrong but they might be unduly sensitive. The “reasonable person standard” tries to evaluate a situation from the perspective of a commonsense third party. https://youtube.com/watch?v=53G484Qy2lA


Regardless of which kind of level on the spectrum you're talking about from intentionality to just carelessness, you also have another question, is from whose perspective? And so a good example of this is, for instance, the tort of assault. And so the tort of assault is intentionally causing apprehension in another person that there's about to be harmful or offensive contact. That's the kind of textbook definition of it. You've essentially put somebody in apprehension that there's going to be a harmful or offensive contact. But think: what if the person that perceives this, that perceives contact to be offensive is hypersensitive? Maybe you walk up to somebody and you're going to ask them for directions, and you kind of tap them on the shoulder a little bit, and then they freak out. They're like: I can't believe you did that, how could you possibly have done that? That's so incredibly offensive. You touched me without my permission. You'd say: whoa, you know, hold on a minute there, buddy, I didn't mean any offense, I wasn't trying to cause you harm. And so then you have this question. The definition of assault is causing somebody to be in apprehension of harmful or offensive contact, or I should move it to battery here since we're actually dealing with an actual touch rather than a threatened touch; and so the definition of battery is causing contact with somebody of a harmful or offensive type. Here you have just a tap on the shoulder that turned out to be extremely offensive. Somebody freaks out about this. And so you have to ask: well, from whose perspective? And so that very often is a key question in tort law, alongside how much do you have to have intended the actual intention or just carelessness. Another question is from whose perspective. And generally speaking, as a broad general matter; the answer in tort law is we look at it from an objective, reasonable person. We say: well, would a reasonable person find that contact to be of a harmful or offensive type? Would a reasonable person think that tap on the shoulder was offensive, and we'd say no. You know, most people wouldn't think that a tap on the shoulder to ask directions is offensive. And so from the standpoint of the reasonable person, an objective reasonable person, this wasn't offensive contact. And so no liability here, even though the plaintiff, the person bringing the claim, subjectively, internally, themselves perceived this to be really offensive; that's not what matters. What matters is the perspective of the objective reasonable person.

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