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Understanding Negligence: The Standard of Care

The Standard of CareIf you or someone you love has been hurt because of the carelessness or wrongful conduct of another person, you may expect to be able to take legal action to recover compensation for your injuries and for any losses you have suffered. But how does that work? What’s the legal basis for recovering monetary compensation for injuries suffered?

In most cases, a claim for damages after a personal injury is based on a legal theory of negligence (though you can also file a personal injury lawsuit for injuries sustained because of an intentional act). To succeed under a legal theory of negligence, you must show three things:

  • That the defendant (wrongdoer) failed to meet the standard of care expected by society
  • That the breach of the standard of care caused your injury
  • That you suffered actual loss because of the injury

As a general rule, standards of care are not defined by statute (or written law), but have evolved through what is known as the “common law,” essentially judge-made law, set forth in opinions written by judges. Over the centuries, the common law of personal injury had developed to establish a standard of care to which all persons are held. In summary, the standard of care requires that all persons in society, in all their actions and dealings, are expected to act as a reasonable person would. If your behavior meets that standard of reasonableness, you won’t be held liable (or responsible) for injuries someone suffers as a result of your conduct.

So how does the law define "reasonable"? Unfortunately, for the most part, it does not. Though some courts have held that the standard is that of "an average person of ordinary prudence," the courts have not gone any further, allowing both the standard of reasonableness, and whether there has been a breach of the standard, to be determined by the jury.

To learn about the other elements of negligence, see our blogs on causation and actual harm.

Contact Metzger & Kleiner

At Metzger & Kleiner, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 215-567-6616 in Philadelphia, 610-435-7400 in the Lehigh Valley, or toll free at 866-847-4170.
We take all personal injury claims on a contingency basis. We will only charge you attorney fees if we recover compensation for your losses.

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