Tort law is an umbrella field of law, which aims to correct injustices that have happened between individuals. The courts assess whether the victim, who is often the plaintiff, has been harmed by another person and if the victim is entitled to compensation for injuries suffered. Where the harm has occurred unintentionally or due to carelessness, the court will apply the reasonable person standard.
History and Background
Canada inherited the reasonable person standard from England in Vaughn v. Menlove, 1837 132 ER 490. In this case, an individual of "lower intelligence" (as noted in the case) built a shoddy haystack too close to the plaintiff's land. The defendant was warned that the haystack was poorly constructed, but ignored this advice. Unfortunately, the haystack spontaneously combusted and destroyed some of the plaintiff's property.
The court rejected the defendant's argument that he had acted honestly and in good faith even though he built a shoddy haystack. The court also rejected the idea that imposing liability on the defendant would unfairly punish him because of his lower intelligence. Instead, the court found the defendant liable and stated that the defendant must "adhere to the rule which requires in all cases a regard to caution such as a man of ordinary prudence would observe". This is the basis of the reasonable personal standard. Characteristics of a reasonable person standard include:
* A person must exercise the standard of care that would be expected of an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances to avoid liability;
* It is an objective standard. No consideration is given to the defendant's thought process or personal awareness of danger. Individual characteristics are excluded such as intelligence, strength, maturity, or temperament;
* The reasonable person is not a particular person. Rather, the standard takes into account both the practicalities of what ordinary people do and what the judges believe they should do;
* It is not a standard that requires perfection or removal of every possible danger--it is a standard that requires reasonableness; and
* Everyone is held up to the reasonable person standard, including the victim.
What Do the Courts Look at To Determine Reasonableness?
Judges make many assessments to determine the reasonableness of the behaviour in question and whether the defendant was negligent. According to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), "what is reasonable depends on the facts of each case, including the likelihood of a known or foreseeable harm, the gravity of...