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Generally, if a defendant is being held for an injury, which is caused by one’s negligence, it should be determined if the defendant acted as a prudent man. That is, a reasonable person, in the incident. Also, the conduct of prudent man is heavily depended on the case.
And, the conduct is generally measured by what the reasonably prudent man would do under the same circumstances. And, this prudent man is just a creature of law’s imagination. A prudent man is used as a standard, to settle down with the intention or the impact of one’s negligence. A Prudent man is nothing but a legal fiction.
It’s a phrase, that is frequently used in Tort and Criminal law, to denote a hypothetical man, who is prudent. Who exercises average care. In a verdict, the decision whether an accused is guilty of the specified offense, might involve the conduct of comparison between the accused and that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances. This means, that individuals are often held guilty of legal offences for failing to live up to the standard, prudent man.


The concept of “reasonable person” made its debut in the case of Vaughan v. Menlove (1837). Let’s take a look at this case, to understand how the concept of a prudent man, emerged.

Vaughan v. Menlove (1837)

The defendant had built a haystack near the plaintiff’s land. The defendant was warned several times that, his haystack has a substantial risk of igniting up and damaging the plaintiff’s cottage. Despite of several warnings, the defendant ignored it.
On one fateful day, the hay did ignite and damaged the plaintiff’s cottage and his property. And the plaintiff immediately sought after legal action for negligence.


The trial court advised the jury to consider the fact that, if this fire had been caused by gross negligence of the defendant and also stated that the defendant was bound to go on with reasonable precautions in the place of a prudent man, and if he had done it, the fire accident wouldn’t have occurred. So, the jury found the defendant, negligent. The court dismisses the argument of the defendant by stating the defendant’s particular sensibilities and weakness should be taken into the account of the case, as he was told to remove the haystack, numerous times, he paid no heed. So, the court finds the defendant guilty. This could be said that it’s the first appearance of the concept of “prudent man”. It was merely a verdict that emerged from the Judge’s conscience.


Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co. (1856)

The defendant had installed a fireplug into the hydrant, across Mr. Blyth’s house. Mr. Blyth pleaded them not to, because it might lead to preposterous damages.
During that winter, there was a severe frost, which caused the plug to malfunction, causing a flood and damage to his house. Mr. Blyth’s house was severely affected and damaged. And, Mr. Blyth went to the court and sued Birmingham Waterworks for negligence.


In the words of Baron Alderson “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.” – by Baron Alderson.
The court found that the severe weather could not have been in the reason of the Water Works damage. And that they could only have been negligent, if they failed to do what a Prudent man would do, in the circumstances. Birmingham had not seen such cold in such a very long time, and it would be unreasonable for the Water Works to anticipate such a rare occurrence.
Finally, the defendants were held for negligence, for the absence of the “Prudent man” characteristic.  


The phrase is mostly used in Torts and criminal laws. The prudent or the reasonable man is just a legal fiction, who sets the standard. The conduct is generally measured by what the reasonably prudent man would do under the same circumstances
A prudent man is expected to weigh in all those upcoming list.

  1. Prediction of the risk of harm his actions could create versus the utility of his actions.
  2. The extent of the risk.
  3. The likelihood of harming others with that risk.
  4. Any other alternative of lesser risks and impact.
    In a nut shell, a prudent man is known to abide by these facts.
    So, if there’s an incident happening, people are generally supposed to follow this. If incidents happen, even after following these, the defendant might get their charges dropped or might reduce the intensity of the compensation.  
    Impact of a prudent man in a case

A proper negligence claim depends on the plaintiff’s ability to prove a defendant did not act reasonable. It also involves revealing the risk of harm which was predictable. Which means the defendant was clearly aware of their actions being wrong as well as doing the action that is directly opposite to which a reasonable person would have done. The jury will consider, without bias and decide the individual’s conduct based on the person’s knowledge, awareness, and mental capacity to behave like a reasonable person. But in reality, the law is blind. So, it will not make any specific allowances for beginners, learners, or newbies. They are held by the Court, at the same care and conduct that of a person, who is reasonably skilled.
For example, a man is driving his car in the highway, at 60 kilometres per hour. All of a sudden, a biker in front of them, 10 metres away, falls off from their bike. And, the driver tried stopping the car. But, he failed in the end. He ran over the biker, and the biker dies, on spot. And a lawsuit is filed against the driver. But, the driver wasn’t found guilty and he wasn’t charged with any offence. As no negligence was found in his actions. He even followed the speed limit. But, in the unexpected turn of events, the biker fell down in his lane, and he didn’t have a proper stopping time. So, what would a prudent man have done here? As soon as he saw the biker fall, he would’ve tried to stop his vehicle. But the stopping distance was the bare minimum. So, he would’ve hit the the biker. And, that’s exact thing that happened there. The driver tries stopping. But, he wasn’t able to stop in time.
So, he wasn’t found guilty or charged.  


Although, the standard of the Prudent man is used as the gold standard, in every negligence case, there’re some instances where the golden standard, Prudent man, is not considered. Because, not everyone can act responsibly like the prudent man. Those exceptions include :


Children are an exception, as they definitely can’t be expected to act similarly to how an adult would. Courts try them in a modified standard, instead. Under this guideline, their negligence is compared to the other children, who are of the same age and equivalent to them, in terms of the amount of experience and knowledge. However, there are certain jurisdictions in which the adult standard does apply, like driving.


Mentally ill people don’t act like how a normal civilian would. Their way of thinking is extremely disembarked, compared to the normal people. So, they’re not always responsible.And, they’re not easily identified by the public. So, the caretaker is most likely to face the charges, as they’ve the responsibility of protecting the public, from the mentally ill person.


When a person takes up a skilled-activity, which he is foreign to, that might pose a threat to the others civilians, they’re tried and held with minimum standard of action, compared to the person, who’s experienced in the specific skilled activity. Example, a driver with an LLR faces less charges, compared to a driver with a driver’s license, for committing the negligence.


The concept of the legal fiction, the Prudent man or the Reasonable man, is a boon to the people who’re likely to be innocent or someone who committed an innocent mistake.
Because, accidents happen. And, the negligent person should be tried and punished. But, the accidents don’t always happen just because someone was careless or irresponsible. There might be some inevitable reasons which might lead to those accidents. And punishing them, is just dreadful and abhorrent. And, some people might have genuine reasons like, taking up an inexperienced task which might lead to risk. There’s a difference between an inexperienced person and an experienced person, committing negligence. So, they’re just held with minimum charges, compared to the experienced person. Also, expecting children to be as responsible as an adult is preposterous. Children aren’t always as responsible as an adult. So, they should be tried in an ethical and in a befitting way.
This imaginary person of the legal world evolved slowly from the case of Vaughan v. Menlove (1837). It has slowly changed from a conscientious thought to a strong statute in our world, today. Honestly, when I started working on this Assignment, I felt like this fictional entity, prudent man, wasn’t really found to be that important to the world of law and not having much relevance. But, as I’m finishing up with the article, it makes me ponder that, how important this fictional entity is to the legal world. It serves as a safe keeper to the innocent civilians.




Missouri Law Review

William S Boyd School of Law


R.k. Bangia


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