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Has the Internet Changed the Reasonable Person Standard?

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By George Khoury, Esq. on September 20, 2018 11:26 AM

In these modern times of wearable tech and 3D printed doodads, a reasonable person usually doesn't act before Googling, and a reasonably prudent person never acts without Googling twice.

The world might as well update the age-old idiom to: Google twice, click once.

And when it comes to the reasonable person standard, a.k.a. the reasonably prudent person standard, the internet has changed everything ... maybe. For litigators, proving someone didn't act reasonably when they had the opportunity to Google might seem like a stretch, but is it? Or more importantly, will a jury buy that argument?

Smartphone, Reasonable Person

When our modern reality (of nearly everyone owning a smartphone) is coupled with the fact that the reasonable person standard is a fact intensive, objective, non-brightline, question for a jury to decide, the idea of a reasonable person being one who Googles (or runs any web search -- though not using Google these days is a debatably unreasonable decision in and of itself) is much more palatable.

Given the widespread adoption of smartphones, tortfeasors and unreasonable actors have less of an excuse for acting unreasonably, especially if they had a couple minutes to consider their actions first and a smartphone on their person. Asking questions that probe these facts could plant the necessary seeds in a juror's mind.

How to Apply the "Reasonable-Person-Googles-Standard"

While it may be difficult to even argue that a person confronted with an emergency or urgent situation should have run a web search before acting, it doesn't seem like a stretch at all in situations that involve contracts, or some tort claims. A reasonable person can Google a contract term and find a rather straightforward explanation. Heck, even in some emergency situations, running a quick web search could be what saves a life, or prevents a crime or injury.

On the other hand, if you're trying to prove that a witness did act as a reasonable person would have, then submitting evidence of the individual's contemporaneous web search history could be rather dispositive and persuasive to a jury, it could also be the proverbial nail in the coffin. After all, it's all about acting as a reasonable person in a similar situation, and these days, when a reasonable person doesn't know what to do, they ask the internet.

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