Negligence is a legal wrong committed when somebody causes injury by failing to excercise the proper level of care. 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".
Gross negligence is a far more severe failure. A person may commit gross negligence when they deliberately act in a way that they know, or should know, is very likely to cause harm.
When a person is found to have committed gross negligence, 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 may have to pay punitive damages. These damages are not tied to any specific injury, but are a punishment designed to deter similar conduct in the future.
No. Although signing an agreement is a typical defense to simple negligence, it cannot prevent a lawsuit for gross negligence. 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 waive the right to sue.
Gross negligence is also a concept in criminal law. Criminal law requires that the defendant both commit an act and have a certain mental state before he or she can be considered guilty. Although simple negligence is not punishable under criminal law, gross negligence can be punished under the criminal justice system.
Criminal gross negligence, however, carries an additional requirement absent from its civil law counterpart. Gross negligence may be punishable by criminal law if the negligence is also reckless. The degree of recklessness may differ by the crime.
Gross negligence lawsuits may result in large fines. If the case is a criminal matter, state prison is a also a 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 act. If you are accused of gross negligence, an experienced personal injury attorney 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.