In order to ensure a better understanding of what gross negligence is, it is best to have a basic foundation of what the term negligence generally means. Negligence refers to a person’s failure to use reasonable care that results in damage or injury to another.
For negligence to exist, the actor must have some duty to exercise reasonable care towards a specific person or class of people. The actor must then fail to meet that level of duty that they owe, and this failure must cause the person or class of people harm or injury. A court will determine what reasonable care means by comparing the defendant’s actions against those found in similar situations.
Negligence may be classified as gross negligence when a defendant’s conduct rises to a level that is more serious than what is found in an ordinary negligence case for similar actions. 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 to another person.
What are the Penalties for Gross Negligence?
In an ordinary negligence case, if the defendant is found to have committed negligence, then they typically only have to pay compensatory damages, such as those relating to medical expenses, lost wages, or property damage.
When a defendant is found to have committed gross negligence, however, then they might have to pay extra damages on top of those found in ordinary negligence cases.
In addition to compensatory damages, someone who commits gross negligence may also have to pay punitive damages. Although an award for punitive damages is rare, these types of damages are designed to prevent similar conduct from happening again in the future. Thus, they are not tied to any specific injury and can be awarded for any type of case where the court deems it necessary.
Can I Lose My Right to Sue for Gross Negligence By Signing a Contract?
An individual cannot contract away their right to sue for gross negligence. While signing an agreement is typically a defense to actions for ordinary negligence, this defense will not be available to use for avoiding a lawsuit involving gross negligence.
For example, a person cannot sign away their right to sue a skydiving company if the company forgets or fails to provide a parachute for their jump. This type of action is considered so far below the standard of care that a mere contract could not waive the right to sue in such a scenario.
Can I Be Accused of Gross Negligence in a Criminal Matter?
The concept of gross negligence can also be found in criminal law, meaning it is punishable under the criminal justice system. Criminal law requires that the defendant both commit an act and have a certain mental state before they can be considered guilty of gross negligence.
In contrast, an action for ordinary negligence is not punishable under the laws of the criminal justice system.
Additionally, criminal gross negligence carries an extra requirement that is absent from its civil law counterpart. Gross negligence may be punishable by criminal law if the negligence committed is also found to be reckless. The degree of recklessness may vary according to the type of crime committed.
Lastly, criminal negligence usually involves a disregard for human life or for the safety of other people. As such, the type of lawyer you should hire may depend on whether your case is for a criminal or civil matter, or both.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with My Gross Negligence Case?
The outcome of a gross negligence lawsuit may result in large fines. If the case involves a criminal matter, the defendant may also possibly receive a sentence to serve in state prison.
As mentioned above, since civil and criminal lawsuits are not mutually exclusive, a defendant could potentially face both criminal charges and civil law liability for the exact same act.
Given the types of punishment involved and the fact that a defendant could be held liable in both civil and criminal lawsuits, if you have been accused of gross negligence, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney or criminal defense attorney immediately.
Without the help of an attorney, you could make a mistake that forfeits your right to receive compensation, miss an opportunity to reduce your liability, or even leads to a sentence of imprisonment. An attorney can help you to prevent any of these mistakes from happening.
Additionally, a lawyer can help you to prepare your case, provide legal advice about your matter, negotiate on your behalf for cases involving settlement agreements, and can represent you in court if necessary.
Finally, a qualified attorney can also help you to determine whether there are any defenses available to use or assess what types of damages you may be able to receive.