What Is Gross Negligence?
Negligence is a legal wrong committed when somebody causes injury through carelessness, but the injury is not intended. For negligence to exist, the actor must have some duty to exercise care towards a specific person, or class of people. They must then fail to meet that duty, and that failure must cause injury. The level of care required is generally defined as that which would be exercised by a “reasonable person”, exercising “ordinary care”.
While negligence is committed when an actor’s level of care falls below that which would be expected of a reasonable person, gross negligence is a far more severe failure. It is generally defined as a failure to exercise any care. It can also be looked at another way: a person commits gross negligence when they deliberately act in a way which they know, or should know, is very likely to cause harm.
For example, if a person is driving above the speed limit and causes an accident, they have probably committed negligence. If he or she is driving over the speed limit, and under the influence of alcohol, then causes an identical accident, he or she has probably committed gross negligence.
What Are The Penalties For Gross Negligence?
When a person is found to have committed gross negligence in a lawsuit, they usually have to pay additional damages. When a person commits negligence, they usually only have to pay compensatory damages. Those are damages designed to address a specific, tangible loss, such as medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering.
In addition to compensatory damages, someone who commits gross negligence will have to pay punitive damages. These damages are not tied to any specific injury. Instead, they are a punishment designed to deter similar conduct in the future. They can often be very high, several times higher than compensatory damages, sometimes running in the millions of dollars.
Can I Contract Away My Right To Sue for Gross Negligence?
No. Although signing an agreement, or assumption of the risk, is a typical defense to simple negligence, assumption of the risk cannot apply to gross negligence because gross negligence is held to be a violation of public policy. For example, you cannot sign away your right to sue a skydiving company if the company forgets or fails to provide you a parachute for your jump. Such an action would be so far below the standard of care that a mere contract could not cover that gross negligence.
Can I Be Accused of Gross Negligence If I’m Arrested?
Gross negligence is a concept which can run through civil law and into criminal law. Criminal law requires that the defendant both commit an act and have a certain mental state before the defendant can be considered guilty. Although simple negligence isn’t punishable under criminal law, gross negligence can be punished under the criminal justice system, especially if a person was injured or killed by the gross negligence. Criminal gross negligence is often the only way that corporations can be held liable for taking a human life.
Criminal gross negligence, however, carries an additional requirement absent from its civil law counterpart. Gross negligence is punishable by criminal law if the negligence involves a “wanton disregard for human life.” In other words, the defendant must not only act without any care, they must also be reckless about that risk.
However, depending on the crime, the recklessness required may differ. For some crimes, the defendant only has to reasonably foresee that his behavior could take a human life. For other crimes, the defendant must actually know that his behavior could take a human life, yet choose to act that way regardless.
Do I Need a Lawyer For My Gross Negligence Case?
Gross negligence cases are very serious which can result in extremely large fines. If the case is in criminal law, state prison is a strong possibility. Since civil law and criminal law are not exclusive, it is possible to face both criminal charges and civil law liability for the same gross negligence. If you are accused of gross negligence, an experienced personal injury and/or criminal defense attorney will be vital. If you were injured by gross negligence, a personal injury attorney can help you recover for your injuries.
Consult a Lawyer - Present Your Case Now!
Last Modified: 12-12-2012 12:03 PM PST
Did you find this article informative?