Expertly Reviewed By: Serah Waweru, Esq., on April 12, 2023
In legal contexts, negligence and gross negligence are frequently used to describe varying degrees of carelessness or recklessness. Though both terms mean a lack of reasonable care, they differ in intensity and intention. Understanding the differences between negligence and gross negligence is crucial for anyone seeking legal action, whether as the plaintiff or defendant. By the end of this article, you will understand the key differences between negligence and gross negligence and more.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence is a legal concept that refers to a lack of care that a reasonable person would exhibit in comparable situations. It is an unintentional civil wrong that occurs when an individual’s actions or inactions harm someone else or their belongings. Negligence can occur in several contexts, including medical malpractice, car accidents, slips and falls, and product liability cases.
What Are the Different Types of Negligence?
Negligence is generally classified into four types, which are:
Contributory negligence: This type of negligence happens when the plaintiff’s own actions contribute to their injuries or damages. In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff may not be able to recover any damages if they are found to have contributed to the incident, while in others, their recovery may be reduced proportionally.
States that follow the contributory negligence legal principle include Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina. The District of Columbia also follows this legal concept, even though it is not a state.
In these states and territory (DC), you will be barred from recovering damages even if you were only 1 percent at fault for the incident.
Comparative negligence: This type of negligence happens when both the plaintiff and defendant share responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. The plaintiff’s recovery may be reduced by the percentage of their fault, as determined by the court or jury.
There are two types of comparative negligence, as discussed below.
Pure comparative negligence allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if they are mostly at fault for their injury or damages, but the damages awarded are reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, let’s say the plaintiff is 70% at fault. In a pure comparative negligence state, they can still recover 30% of the damages. Alaska, California, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi are examples of states that follow this legal concept.
Modified comparative negligence allows the plaintiff to recover damages under one condition: if they are less than a certain percentage at fault, usually 50%. If found to be more than the specified percentage at fault, they are barred from recovering any damages.
Similarly, if found to be less than the specified percentage at fault, their damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, if judged to be 20% at fault, their damages will be reduced by 20%.
Examples of states that follow the modified comparative negligence legal concept include Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, Georgia, and Hawaii.
Gross negligence: Unlike ordinary negligence, gross negligence entails a purposeful and reckless disregard for the potential outcomes of one’s actions. To establish gross negligence in a court of law, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was considerably more unreasonable than that of a typical individual.
Instances of gross negligence include:
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Knowingly selling a hazardous product.
- Performing surgery while intoxicated.
In legal proceedings, gross negligence can result in more severe penalties than ordinary negligence, including criminal charges or punitive damages.
Vicarious liability: This type of liability occurs when a person or entity is held responsible for the actions of another, such as an employer being held liable for their employee’s actions. It is based on the legal principle of “let the master answer,” also known as respondeat superior.
What Are Some Examples of Gross Negligence?
Here are some examples of gross negligence:
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol shows a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others on the road. It involves a conscious and voluntary disregard for the potential consequences of one’s actions.
Selling a dangerous product despite knowledge of its risks involves a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the consumers who use the product and can result in serious harm or even death.
Performing surgery while impaired goes beyond ordinary negligence and involves an extreme deviation from reasonable standards of care, as it puts the patient’s life at risk.
Failing to properly secure a dangerous animal may result in harm to others and demonstrates a conscious and voluntary disregard for their safety.
Ignoring safety protocols in a workplace may result in serious injuries or fatalities and shows a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of employees.
⚖️PRO TIP: Whether or not a particular situation may amount to gross negligence depends on the circumstances and the jurisdiction where the incident occurred.
50% and 51% Negligence Rule Explained
States that follow modified comparative negligence use either the 50% or 51% rule. Under the 50% rule, the plaintiff can only recover damages if they are less than 50% at fault for their injuries.
On the other hand, under the 51% rule, the plaintiff can only recover damages if they are less than 51% at fault for their injuries. If the plaintiff is found to be at or above the specified percentage at fault, they cannot recover any damages. Regardless of the rule used, if the plaintiff is found to be less than the specified percentage at fault, their damages are reduced by their percentage of fault.
What Is the Difference Between Negligence and Gross Negligence?
Negligence and gross negligence differ in their level of carelessness or recklessness.
Negligence occurs when someone’s actions or inactions harm another person or their property due to a failure to exercise reasonable care. The care expected of such a person is that of an average, prudent individual in similar circumstances. Negligence can result from unintentional mistakes or carelessness.
On the other hand, gross negligence involves a willful and wanton disregard for the safety or well-being of others or a significant deviation from reasonable standards of care. It is a conscious and voluntary disregard for the potential outcomes of one’s actions and often goes beyond mere carelessness or negligence.
To establish gross negligence in a court of law, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant’s behavior was substantially more unreasonable than that of an ordinary person. Gross negligence can result in more severe penalties than ordinary negligence, such as criminal charges or punitive damages.
Gross Negligence vs Recklessness Explained
Gross negligence and recklessness are legal terms that describe varying degrees of negligent behavior.
As mentioned, gross negligence is a more severe form of negligence than ordinary negligence. It is characterized by a failure to exercise even the slightest amount of care and goes beyond mere inattention or carelessness.
In contrast, recklessness involves a conscious decision to take an action that poses a significant and unjustifiable risk of harm to others. This type of behavior involves a deliberate disregard for known or obvious risks.
The consequences of gross negligence typically involve civil liability, while recklessness can result in both civil and criminal liability. Moreover, the penalties for recklessness can be more severe than those for gross negligence.
Can You Sue for Gross Negligence?
Certainly, it is possible to sue for this kind of negligence. This is because this type of negligence is considered more serious in legal terms because it involves an intentional and careless disregard for the safety or well-being of others. If you have suffered harm or damages due to someone’s gross negligence, you may have grounds to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for your losses.
How To Prove Gross Negligence?
To establish gross negligence in a court of law, you will need to provide compelling evidence demonstrating that the defendant’s conduct was substantially more unreasonable than that of an average person. The following steps may help prove gross negligence:
Collect evidence: Gather evidence that supports your claim, such as witness statements, documents, photographs, and videos.
Establish a duty of care: Prove that the defendant owed you or others a duty of care, which means they were legally obligated to take reasonable measures to prevent harm.
Demonstrate a breach of duty: Show that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent harm. This may include providing evidence of the defendant’s willful and wanton conduct, such as knowingly engaging in dangerous behavior or failing to take reasonable steps to prevent harm.
Establish causation: Demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused your injuries or damages.
Prove damages: Show that you suffered actual harm or loss due to the defendant’s breach of duty.
⚖️ PRO TIP: Proving gross negligence can be a complicated and challenging legal process. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help build a strong case on your behalf, increasing your chances of obtaining a favorable verdict.
What Is Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence?
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a criminal charge that involves causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle in a manner that shows a conscious and voluntary disregard for the safety of others on the road.
It is usually a more serious offense than regular vehicular manslaughter or reckless driving. This is because unlike the other scenarios, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence goes beyond mere carelessness or negligence.
To prove vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, you must prove that the defendant’s conduct was substantially more unreasonable than that of an ordinary person. Examples include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding excessively, or knowingly disregarding traffic laws.
What Is the Penalty for Gross Negligence
Penalties for this type of negligence vary from state to state. They also depend on the unique circumstances of that particular case. As mentioned earlier, gross negligence is usually more serious than ordinary negligence. For this reason, it may result in harsher penalties.
For example, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence can lead to imprisonment, fines, and revocation of the defendant’s driver’s license. The length of imprisonment and the amount of fines vary by nature of the offense and jurisdiction.
If gross negligence results in harm to others, the defendant may also be liable for the resulting damages. This can include but is not limited to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering.
Bottomline: Gross Negligence vs Negligence Explained
To sum up, negligence and gross negligence are legal terms that describe varying degrees of negligent behavior. Negligence refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care, whereas gross negligence involves a conscious and voluntary disregard for others’ safety or well-being, which goes beyond mere carelessness.
Gross negligence can lead to civil liability, while recklessness can result in both civil and criminal liability, with potentially more severe penalties. Understanding the differences between these terms is crucial when seeking legal remedies for damages resulting from others’ negligent conduct.