Is it always true that the reasonable person test 'eliminates the personal equation' (Glasgow Corp v Muir, per Lord MacMillan)?


Negligence consists of falling below the standard of care required in the circumstances to protect others from the unreasonable risk of harm. Generally, the law regards this standard of care objectively, demanded by the activity in question, and prima facie declines to accept any excuses found on the defendant’s inability to measure up to such standard. As Lord Macmillan put it in Glasgow Corporation v Muir [1943] AC 448, 458, this objective standard ‘eliminates the personal equation and is independent of the idiosyncrasies of the particular person whose conduct is in question’. However, over the years it has been argued that case-law has established a rather perplex set of rules and principles regarding this test for breach of duty, allowing certain subjective factors to be considered when assessing the standard of care applicable. It is this issue which has lead to a heated debate of what the test is and/or should be, and that will form the basis of this essay. Firstly, the case law on this matter will be examined, and we shall analyse the applicability of the test to specific contexts. Next, the reasonable person test in both Philips v William Whiteley Ltd [1938] 1 All ER 566 and Nettleship v Weston [1971] 2 QB 691 shall be compared and contrasted, and an attempt shall be made to reconcile the two, albeit stringently.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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