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Introduction

Once it has been established that a legal duty of care is owed by the defendant towards the claimant, a claimant must prove that there has been a breach of that duty in order to claim. How do we know what is a breach though, and what is not? We must look at the standard of care that the defendant must show towards the claimant. One quote which featured at the start of the Duty of Care topic was the one from Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks.

"Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate human affairs, would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do."- Baron Alderson

This quote applies to all of negligence and it introduces us to the 'reasonable man' test. This test is featured throughout negligence, and in other areas of tort law the common question is: was it reasonable?

So who is the reasonable man? What defines reasonable? Green LJ tried to give one definition in Hall v Brooklands Auto-Racing Club: "The person concerned is sometimes described as 'the man on the street' or the 'man on the clapham omnibus', a recent suggestion was 'the man who takes the magazines at home and in the evening pushes the lawnmower in his shirt sleeves'." It would appear that the reasonable man is all of us.
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According to google, this is the 'man on the clapham omnibus'
The characteristics of the reasonable man have also been considered by judges.

Glasgow Corporation v Muir - A tea urn was being carried though a narrow corridor in a church. A church picnic was allowed to happen on the day in question and children were allowed to wander around inside as it rained. A child got burnt when the tea urn was dropped.

Macmillan LJ stated that "the standard of foresight of the reasonable man is an impersonal test. It eliminates the personal equation and is independent of the idiosyncrasies of the particular person whose conduct is in question. Some people are, by nature, unduly timorous and imagine every path beset by lions; others, of more robust temperament, fail to foresee or nonchalantly disregard even the most obvious of dangers. The reasonable man is presumed to be free of both over-apprehension and from over-confidence."


The defendant will also be judged by the standard of the reasonable man at the time of their act. If the defendant is aware of a possibility of harm, there will be a breach of duty if they do not reasonably try to prevent it, as in Walker v Northumberland CC.

Roe v Minster of Health - A patient needed a spinal anaesthetic, which was stored in glass surrounded by sterilising fluid. There were very small cracks in the glass, allowing the sterilising fluid to seep through. The patient was paralysed as a result of the contamination. The defendant was not liable because a similar event had never happened before and it was not foreseeable.

There have been a couple of exceptions to this rule, most of which involve asbestos, however these cases are rare.

Policy factors are also taking in to consideration when deciding a standard of care. C K Allen said in ' Law in the Making' that "nobody is deceived by the fiction that the judge is stating not what he himself thinks, but what an average, reasonable man may think."

Despite the 'reasonable man' test being mainly objective, it does allow the Judge a bit of flexibility to arrive at what they deem to be fair, just and reasonable decisions with several policy factors to consider, such as:

  • Who can best bear the loss in the particular case?
  • Was the defendant insured?
  • Will the case open a floodgate of similar claims?
  • Was it fair, just and reasonable based on the particular case?
  • Will the verdict affect society as a whole?