TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Monday, October 26, 2020

Jaeger on the Empirical Reasonable Person

Christopher Brett Jaeger has posted to SSRN The Empirical Reasonable Person.  The abstract provides:

The reasonable person standard is central to law, and to tort law in particular. But there is much debate about what it means for a person to be reasonable. Some scholars argue that reasonableness is an economic prescription, dictating that people should take (only) cost-justified precautions. Others contend that reasonableness is grounded in community customs or norms. Surprisingly, this scholarly debate has always been more philosophical than empirical. Though it is often lay jurors who determine whether litigants’ behavior is reasonable, very little work has actually examined how laypeople make this determination.

This Article approaches the reasonableness debate from a fresh empirical perspective, examining the factors that influence whether laypeople judge behavior reasonable. Across four experiments, participants’ judgments consistently depended on information about the behavior of others—and never depended on whether precautions were cost-justified. These findings supply the first experimental evidence that lay decision makers understand reasonableness more in behavioral than in economic terms; indeed, they may not understand reasonableness in economic terms at all.

After describing the experimental findings, the Article unpacks some of their implications. First, the Article contends that tort law’s reasonable person standard both is and should be informed by observations and beliefs about others’ conduct. Second, the Article identifies challenges that arise from conceiving of the reasonable person in economic terms. Finally, the Article raises the possibility that decision makers’ understanding of reasonableness varies—and perhaps should vary—depending on the nature of the alleged negligence at issue.

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