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In law, a reasonable man or the man on the Clapham Omnibus is a hypothetical person of legal fiction who is ultimately
anthropomorphic representation of the body care standards crafted by the courts and communicated through case law and jury
A reasonable man is a hypothetical human being who behaved in a way that is legally appropriate. Those who do not meet this
standard that is, they do not behave at least as a reasonable man would- are considered negligent and may be held liable for
damages caused by their action.
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Strictly according to the fiction, it is misconceived for a party to seek evidence from actual people in order to establish how the
reasonable man would have acted or what he would have foreseen. This person’s character and care conducted under any
common set of facts, is decided through reasoning of good practice or policy or ‘learned’ permitting there is a compelling
consensus of public opinion-by high courts. In some practices, for circumstances arising from an uncommon set of facts, this
person is seen to represent a composite of a relevant committee’s judgment as to how a typical member of a said committee
should behave in situations that might pose a threat of harm, (through action or inaction) to the public. However, cases
resulting in judgments notwithstanding verdict, such as Liebeck V. Mc Donald’s Restaurants, can be examples where a vetted
jury’s composite judgment were deemed outside that of the actual fictional reasonable person, and thus overruled.
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A reasonable man belongs to a family of hypothetical figures in law including “the right thinking member of society”,
“the officious bystander”, the “reasonable parent”, the “reasonable landlord”, the “fair-minded and informed observer, the
“person having ordinary skill in the art” and stretching back to Roman Jurists, the figure of the bonus paterfamerlias, all used
to defined legal standards.
In 1835, Adoiphe Quetele, who was a Belgian astronomer, mathematician, statistician and sociologist. He documented
the physical characteristics of man on a statistical basis and discussed man’s motivations when acting in society. Two years
later, the “reasonable man” made his first appearance in the English case of Vaughan V Menlove (1837). In Menlove, the
defendant had stacked hay on his rental property in a manner prone to spontaneous ignition. After he had been repeatedly
warned over the cause of five weeks, the hay ignited and burned the defendant’s barns and stable and then spread to the
landlords two cottages on the adjacent property. Menlove’s Attorney admitted his client’s misfortune of not possessing the
highest order of intelligence; arguing that Negligence should only be found if the jury decided Menlove had not acted with
“bona fide to the best of his own judgment. The manlove disagreed, reasoning that such a standard would be too subjective,
instead referring to set an objective standard for adjudicating cases. English Courts upheld the standard again nearly 20 years
later in Blyth V Company proprietors of the Birmiham Water Works, holding that ‘Negligence is the omission to do something
which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man
would not do’’.
What are the conducts that are reasonable conducts?
It is objectively measured by the “reasonable man’’ text laid down by Baron Alderson in Blyth V Birmingham Water
works (1856). “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
Reasonable conducts are standard of reasonableness. It is a standard that has to be reached even by the inexperienced,
for example when learning to drive, the law examines the circumstances complained of in retrospect (by looking backwards in
time) to decide whether or not the defendant breached his duty of care. Nowadays the defendant is likely to be a company and
so a business will be expected to perform to the standards of an expert. Negligence consists in falling below the standards of
care required in the circumstances to protect other from the unreasonable risk of harm” (Mullos & Oliphant, Tort, p 70).
Breach of duty is the same as fault, Negligence is fault based. Normally, it does not require a guilty mind (unlike in crime
which requires mens rea). Malice is generally unimportant, in Bradford Corporate V Pickles (1895). The motive behind pickles
action or conduct was not relevant as breach is subjectively judged. This is true of most torts and is only essential in a few torts,
for example, Malice prosecution, injurious false hood; conspiracy; defamation. However, there is a subjective element when
judging whether D’s conduct was reasonable.
In Roberts V Rambottom (1980) QBD,
D suffered a partial stroke while driving, and drove on with impaired consciousness and collide with two parked vehicles.
Holding: since he retained some limited control he was liable. Only total unconsciousness or total lack of control would excuse
him. Alternatively, D knew he had been taken ill and was therefore negligent in not stopping, even if he did not fully realize he
was no longer fit to drive.
Going by the above reasoning, a reasonable man is a hypothetical human being that act in standard care and in confines of law,
and sound judgment as well as fair, sense that governs society and man while a reasonable conduct is the actions or behavior of
the reasonable man in his environment.
He has not the courage to Achilles, the wisdom of Ulysses or the strength of Hercules, nor has he the prophetic vision of a
clairvoyant. He will not anticipate fully in all its forms but he never puts out of conservation the teachings at experience and so
will guard against negligence of others when experience shows such negligence to be common. He is a reasonable man but not
a perfect citizen, nor a “Paragon of circumspection”.