Negligence and Gross Negligence: What’s the Difference?

  • Personal Injury
July 10, 2023

Negligence is perhaps the most common basis for a civil lawsuit, as it encompasses such a wide variety of activity, from car accidents to medical malpractice. At one point or another, most of us have been the victim of someone else’s negligence, and we’ve all probably been negligent ourselves, at least in minor ways.

“Gross negligence,” as you can probably tell from the wording, is a more extreme form of negligence. In Colorado, it has a specific legal definition, and having a defendant’s conduct labeled as gross negligence can profoundly affect your personal injury claim.

What Is Negligence?

In the most basic definition, ordinary negligence occurs when one person injures another person through their own carelessness. For example, if you are driving your car but not paying close attention to the road and rear-end the car in front of you, that is ordinary negligence. Of course, negligence also has a more exact legal definition, which requires all four of the following requirements to be met:

  1. A legal duty to exercise care
  2. A breach of that duty by failing to exercise the level of care a reasonable person would have exercised in that situation
  3. The defendant’s breach of the duty of care caused the plaintiff’s injuries
  4. The plaintiff’s injuries can be compensated in the form of financial damages

So, in our simple car crash example, you as a driver have a duty of care to everyone around you. Failing to pay attention to the road is a breach of that duty, which caused damage, at the very least, to another person’s car, and that damage is financially quantifiable.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence means that, with regard to the defendant’s breach of their duty of care, their conduct went beyond mere carelessness. That is, the defendant failed to exercise “even the slightest amount of care” or acted with “reckless disregard” for the consequences of their actions.

In our car crash example, imagine if the driver had not just been distracted, but intentionally closed their eyes and hit the gas. Alternatively, consider a supervisor at an industrial facility that knowingly dumps toxic chemicals into the local water supply. In some cases, driving while intoxicated may be regarded as gross negligence.

What It Means for Your Case

A finding that the defendant acted with gross negligence can significantly impact your personal injury claim. First, even if you had previously signed a waiver with the defendant that might normally have released them from liability, that waiver is not enforceable in cases of gross negligence.

Second, a court is more likely to allow an award of punitive damages in cases of gross negligence. Punitive damages can be a much higher amount than the actual damages suffered by the plaintiff, as their purpose is to punish the defendant for their deliberate actions.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Negligence Claim

Trying to handle a negligence case on your own is never a good idea. The issues can be much more complicated than they seem, and the other side is almost sure to have legal representation.

Our team of attorneys at Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. have more than 30 years of experience handling personal injury cases for injured victims. During your free consultation, your injury attorney will present you with a plan for moving your case forward and give you a realistic idea about what you can expect; after that, the decision is easy.

To schedule your first appointment, contact our office today.

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