Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Reasonable Man Definition:

An ethereal concept of an average person and his/her conduct, against which the actions of another is weighed.

Related Terms: Negligence, Due Care, Bonus pater familias, Man on the Clapham Omnibus

Also reasonable person.

The inscrutable concept for determining whether or not, in a given situation, conduct is negligent; thus exposing a person to liability and damages.

In Levitt, the British Columbia Court of Appeal wrote:

"The purpose of the reasonable man ... is to determine whether a particular plaintiff has failed, judged by a community standard, in the duty of care he or she owes himself or herself."

The standard is androgynous; there is no expression of the "reasonable woman" known to the common law. But, in Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Diplock wrote that the concept of a reasonable man:

"... has never been confined to the adult male. It means an ordinary person of either sex, not exceptionally excitable or pugnacious, but possessed of such powers of self-control as everyone is entitled to expect that his fellow citizens will exercise in society as it is today."

Also known as the reasonable person, the ordinary prudent man, even the man on the street, the man on the Clapham bus or even:

"... the man who takes the magazines at home, and in the evenings pushes the lawn mower in his shirt sleeves."1

The foundation of the concept of a reasonable man can be found in Blyth:

"Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. The defendants might have been liable for negligence, if, unintentionally, they omitted to do that which a reasonable person would have done, or did that which a person taking reasonable precautions would not have done."

It is not an easy term to pin down as it is shaped into a different form in each case, to suit the proper legal action or response to the facts at hand. Thus in Carlson, the Court noted:

"The ideal of that person exists only in the minds of men, and exists in different forms in the minds of different men. The standard is therefore far from fixed as stable. But it is the best all-round guide that the law can devise."

And in Bolton, the court warded against those that would hold the reasonable man to perfection:

"People must guard against reasonable probabilities, but they are not bound against fantastic possibilities."2

In similar vein, British jurist and legal historian Percy Winfield wrote that the reasonable man:

".. has neither the courage of Achilles, the wisdom of Ulysses or the strength of Hercules."

But another jurist, Justice Bramwell is credited with writing that the reasonable man has:

"... the agility of an acrobat and the foresight of a Hebrew prophet."

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