To fully comprehend the concept of gross negligence, it is easiest first to understand its general meaning.
Negligence can be defined as an individual’s failure to exercise reasonable care, which results in harm or injury to another person.
For negligence to be established, the actor must have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward a specific person or group. The actor then fails to fulfill that duty, which causes harm or injury to the person or group. A court will assess the reasonableness of the care by comparing the defendant’s actions to those in similar situations.
Gross negligence occurs when a defendant’s conduct surpasses the severity of what is found in ordinary negligence cases for comparable actions. A person can commit gross negligence if they intentionally act in a manner that they know, or should know, is highly likely to cause harm to another person.
Example 1: Ignoring Safety Protocols at a Construction Site
A construction site supervisor, aware of the established safety protocols, intentionally disregards them to speed up the project’s completion. By doing so, they knowingly expose workers to hazardous conditions that could lead to severe injuries or even death. The supervisor’s actions, in this case, can be considered gross negligence, as they consciously chose to act in a manner that was highly likely to cause harm to others.
Example 2: A Babysitter Leaving a Child Unattended Near a Swimming Pool
A babysitter responsible for caring for a young child deliberately leaves the child unattended near a swimming pool while they spend time on their phone or engage in other personal activities. Given the well-known risks of leaving young children unsupervised around water, the babysitter’s actions demonstrate a blatant disregard for the child’s safety and could be considered gross negligence.
Example 3: A Restaurant Manager Failing to Address Food Allergies
A customer informs a restaurant manager about their severe allergy to peanuts.
Despite being aware of the potentially life-threatening consequences of exposure to peanuts, the manager intentionally serves the customer a dish containing peanuts due to negligence or a desire to save costs. The manager’s actions, in this case, can be considered gross negligence, as they knowingly put the customer’s life at risk.
What are the Penalties for Gross Negligence?
In a typical negligence case, a defendant found guilty of negligence is usually required to pay compensatory damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or property damage. However, in cases of gross negligence, the defendant may have to pay additional damages beyond those in ordinary negligence cases.
What are Punitive Damages?
Besides compensatory damages, an individual who commits gross negligence may also be required to pay punitive damages. Although rare, punitive damages are intended to deter similar conduct in the future and can be awarded in any case where the court deems it necessary, regardless of the specific injury.
Example 1: A Drunk Driver Causing a Fatal Accident
In this scenario, a driver who has consumed excessive amounts of alcohol decides to operate their vehicle despite their impairment. As a result, the driver causes a serious car accident, leading to the death of another person.
The court may decide to award punitive damages in this case because the drunk driver’s actions were grossly negligent and exhibited a blatant disregard for the safety and lives of others on the road. The punitive damages would serve as a deterrent for the defendant and others, discouraging similar reckless behavior.
Example 2: A Manufacturer Knowingly Producing Dangerous Products
Imagine a company that produces and sells consumer goods is aware that one of its products contains a hazardous material or has a dangerous defect. Despite this knowledge, the company continues to manufacture and distribute the product without making any changes, prioritizing profits over consumer safety.
When injuries or deaths occur due to using a dangerous product, the court may award punitive damages to the victims. In this case, the punitive damages would strongly message the company and other manufacturers to prioritize safety over profit, discouraging similar conduct in the future.
Example 3: A Medical Professional’s Egregious Malpractice
Consider a situation where a surgeon, while operating on a patient, makes a series of critical errors that result in severe harm or even death for the patient. Upon investigation, it was revealed that the surgeon was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the surgery or had a history of performing similar surgeries with disastrous outcomes.
In this case, the surgeon’s actions can be considered grossly negligent, and the court may decide to award punitive damages.
The punitive damages would deter the surgeon and other medical professionals from engaging in such reckless behavior and emphasize the importance of adhering to the highest standards of care in the medical field.
Can I Lose My Right to Sue for Gross Negligence By Signing a Contract?
You cannot waive your right to sue for gross negligence by signing a contract. While signing an agreement is generally a defense against ordinary negligence claims, this defense is not applicable in cases of gross negligence.
For instance, you cannot waive their right to sue a skydiving company if they neglect to provide your jump parachutes. This type of action is considered so far below the standard of care that a simple contract cannot negate the right to sue in such circumstances.
Can I Be Accused of Gross Negligence in a Criminal Matter?
Gross negligence also applies in criminal law and is punishable within the criminal justice system. Criminal law necessitates that the defendant both commit an act and possess a certain mental state to be considered guilty of gross negligence. On the other hand, ordinary negligence is not punishable under criminal law.
Criminal gross negligence is an additional requirement not present in civil law. Gross negligence may be subject to criminal punishment if the committed negligence is also deemed reckless. The degree of recklessness varies depending on the specific crime.
Criminal negligence typically involves a disregard for human life or the safety of others. As a result, the type of lawyer you should hire may depend on whether your case involves criminal or civil matters or both.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with My Gross Negligence Case?
A gross negligence lawsuit can result in substantial fines, and if it involves a criminal matter, the defendant may also face a state prison sentence. Civil and criminal lawsuits are not mutually exclusive, meaning a defendant could face both criminal charges and civil liability for the same act.
Due to the potential punishments and the possibility of being held liable in both civil and criminal cases, consult an experienced personal injury attorney in your area if you have been accused of gross negligence.
Without legal assistance, you may make mistakes that could jeopardize your right to compensation, limit your opportunity to reduce liability, or even lead to imprisonment. An attorney can help prevent such errors from occurring.
In addition, a lawyer can assist with case preparation, offer legal advice, negotiate on your behalf for settlement agreements, and represent you in court if necessary.
Use LegalMatch to find a lawyer for your case today. Negligence cases can be complex, but your attorney can review the laws that apply to your case and explain your legal rights and options to you clearly.