The Reasonable Man

In law school, one of the first things you learn is the mantra, “What would a reasonable man do?”.  It’s driven into your brain the first torts class, and it never goes away.  It’s a basic rule of law that demonstrates how something should be judged.  For instance, a man should be judged (in most cases) objectively – like what would someone else have done in the same situation.  Would Mr. Finkbeiner have built his hayrick the same way that Mr. Black built his?  If Mr. Finkbeiner would have done so, would it have caught fire?  (This from one of my favorite cases – Vaughn v. Menlove – names changed of course.) 

Sometimes I want to use this in real life.  As a matter of fact, as my boss often tells me, I’m being too logical.

If X + Y always = R, and R is a very, very bad thing that will cause financial ruin upon whomever does R, then why would you put X & Y together?  Is that reasonable?  No, it’s not.  Would a reasonable man want to bring financial ruin on his whole family?  No, probably not.  So if Joe puts X&Y together and it causes R, then he’s being unreasonable.  Or, at least that is the way I see it.

A judge is a person, just like anyone else.  I’ve had judges for law professors, as a matter of fact one of my very favorite law profs is a judge.  He has to use reasonableness in his everyday life.  I think that if more people did, the world would be a better place. 

Back to Finkbeiner.  He built a hayrick.  It burned.  He built it “unreasonably”, and that is why it caused the fire.  So he should be liable to Black, right?  Yes, he should.  He should be if and only if a court of law and a jury of his peers (if the parties choose a jury trial), find him unreasonable.

And so it is ordered.

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