Reasonable care is the level of care which an ordinary and reasonable person would use under comparable circumstances. In the law, it is used as a standard to assess liability. If it can be demonstrated that someone had a duty of care and failed to exercise reasonable care, that person can be held negligent and may be liable for damages. On the other hand, if someone exhibited reasonable care and something happened anyway, this person would not be considered negligent.
This standard relies on a mythical figure: the “reasonable person.” This figure is an ordinary person who is both rational and prudent, and thus presumed to be capable of exercising common sense and making decisions based in rationality. By contrast, someone like a child or a person with intellectual disabilities would not be considered to be a reasonable person, under the rationale that such individuals are not “ordinary” and thus could not be expected to be prudent or rational.
In a simple example of a situation in which reasonable care might be evaluated, if a driver took another driver to court because of a rearending accident, the court would determine whether or not the driver who did the rearending was acting with reasonable care. For example, if the driver in front indicated that brakes were applied gradually, giving the driver behind plenty of warning, the court might determine that the second driver was indeed negligent, for failing to activate the brakes in time to prevent the accident.
The standard of reasonable care becomes more complicated for professionals, because professionals are not considered ordinary individuals since they provide services on the basis of additional qualifications. Professional negligence involves neglecting the standard of care expected in the profession, rather than exhibited by an ordinary person. A doctor's duty of care, for example, is dependent on professional training which the doctor should have applied to a case. If it can be demonstrated that a doctor failed to act in a manner consistent with other medical professionals, it may be deemed professional negligence and the doctor could be held liable for injuries incurred as a result.
As a general rule, people can avoid situations in which they may be liable for negligence by exercising common sense and caution, and taking steps to prevent injuries and accidents. People who are unsure about the duty of care in a given situation can ask for legal advice, if the situation is one which allows time for consultation.