Criminal Negligence Laws

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 What Is Negligence?

Negligence is the legal theory which allows an injured party to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is considered to be legally negligent if they were careless, given the circumstances of the situation.

Negligence has four major elements that must be shown in order to recover for the injuries they sustained because of someone else’s negligence. However, even if those four parts are shown and negligence is established, the defense could still mitigate how much a defending party must pay.

The four elements are:

  1. Duty: A duty is the responsibility that one person owes to another. Generally speaking, people going about their day owe a duty of ‘reasonable care’ to each other, which is the level of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use under specific circumstances;
  2. Breach: Breach occurs when a person’s care falls below the level of care that is required by their duty;
  3. Causation: Simply put, the breach of a duty must be the cause of injury. The legal test for causation essentially states that ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred; and
  4. Damages: Generally speaking, there must be some sort of harm that occurred. The type of injury can vary from property damage to emotional stress, as well as lost wages. All of the above elements must be present in order to successfully determine that the other party was negligent. If one of the above elements cannot be proven, then negligence cannot be established.

The most obvious example of negligence is personal injury, such as a car crash in which one driver was speeding during inclement weather and harmed another driver. However, negligence is a flexible idea that can appear in many different contexts. Emotional harm such as PTSD developing due to negligent conduct is another example of cause for a negligence lawsuit.

Additionally, negligence can occur in the work setting. An example of this would be how an employer could be negligent by not giving an employee proper safety equipment, which would have prevented an injury. Training and supervision can be another area in which an employer might be negligent.

Businesses can also act negligently by making faulty goods that cause injury, as negligently making or designing goods for sale can result in a lawsuit. An example of this would be how failing to test a toaster in order to ensure that it does not burst into flames would be negligent making. An example of negligent design would be designing a toaster to be built out of flammable material.

Additionally, lawyers can be involved in negligence claims. If a lawyer’s conduct slips below the standard level of care of lawyers, which is higher than that of ‘reasonable care,’ they can be sued for malpractice.

What Is Criminal Negligence?

Negligence can be categorized as either being civil negligence or criminal negligence. Civil negligence is sometimes referred to as “ordinary” negligence, and it refers to situations in which someone is injured because of another person’s carelessness. To reiterate, a person is considered to be civilly negligent when their conduct falls short of what a reasonable and prudent person would have done in the same or similar situation.

Alternatively, criminal negligence occurs when an individual’s conduct is an extreme departure from the way in which a reasonable person would have acted in the same or similar situation.

Additionally, criminal negligence requires a higher degree of responsibility when compared to civil negligence. Criminal negligence also requires more than a simple mistake in judgment, inattention, and/or ordinary carelessness. It generally denotes conduct that results in the risk of serious bodily injury and/or death to another person.

An example of this would be if a person is driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and that results in causing someone else’s death because of their impaired operation of a motor vehicle. The majority of state laws would define this conduct as criminally negligent homicide.

To be more specific, in order to convict someone of criminal negligence in the state of California, it is necessary for the prosecutor to prove all of the following three elements:

  1. That the defendant acted so recklessly that they created a high risk of death, and/or major bodily injury;
  2. That the defendant’s actions showed a disregard for human life, or an indifference to the consequences of their actions; and
  3. That any reasonable person in the same or similar situation would have known that the actions would have probably resulted in harm or death to other people.

What Is The Level Of Proof For Criminal Negligence?

Another difference between civil and criminal negligence would be the level of required proof, or the burden of proof. Civil negligence cases involve a lesser “burden of proof” as compared to criminal negligence cases. The plaintiff in a civil negligence case simply must prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that the defendant was negligent. Under such circumstances, the phrase preponderance of evidence simply means that it was more likely than not that the defendant acted negligently.

However, in a case for criminal negligence, the prosecutor will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The phrase beyond a reasonable doubt refers to the highest standard of proof that is available in a court of law. In this specific instance, it means that the evidence is so strong that there is no other logical explanation besides the fact that the defendant acted with criminal negligence.

Additionally, criminal and civil negligence cases differ in the types of legal procedures that are involved. An example of this would be how criminal cases are tried differently than civil cases. In a criminal case, it is the prosecutor or the state that is responsible for bringing the negligence charges against the defendant. This is because the defendant’s conduct is considered to be sufficiently disruptive or damaging that it justifies receiving a punishment from the state.

However, in a civil negligence action, the case may be filed by one private citizen against another private individual. Civil claims are intended to reimburse the victim for their losses, as opposed to punishing the defendant.

What Are Some Other Differences Between Criminal Negligence And Civil Negligence?

Generally speaking, an act of criminal negligence is associated with harsher penalties and legal consequences than those associated with civil negligence. A person who is found liable in a civil case only has to pay money damages, while a person who is convicted in a criminal case may face a jail or prison sentence.

Criminal negligence can also be punished by:

  • Having to pay considerably high criminal fines;
  • Receiving mandatory probation supervision; and
  • Being required to participate in a considerable number of hours of community service.

Once the sentence that was imposed by the court has been served, the person convicted of criminal negligence will most likely have a criminal record. A criminal record can make it difficult for them to find a job, among other consequences.

Do I Need An Attorney For Criminal Negligence Charges?

If you are being charged with criminal negligence, you will need to work with a local criminal defense lawyer.

An attorney can help you understand your state’s specific negligence laws, and how those laws will affect your legal rights and options. Your criminal defense attorney will also represent you in court as needed.

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