What’s the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence & Gross Negligence?

Posted on by datateam

Almost every personal injury case in California centers on one main legal theory: negligence. Understanding negligence and the laws that surround negligence in California can help you strengthen your claim to damages as an injured accident victim. During your claim, you may also hear the phrase gross negligence. Gross negligence is not the same as ordinary negligence. These two legal terms have different definitions and consequences. If your case involves gross negligence, you may have different options as a plaintiff.

What is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is a level of negligence so severe that it escalates past the point of a mistake a reasonable and prudent person could make. It describes a level of wantonness that is so severe that the defendant was exhibiting a total disregard for the safety of others. Gross negligence can describe a situation in which the defendant knew his or her actions would create a foreseeable risk of serious harm to others but committed the action or omission anyway. Gross negligence can also describe deliberate wrongdoing by the defendant with the intent to harm someone or someone’s property.

What is Ordinary Negligence?

Ordinary negligence, on the other hand, describes a breach of the ordinary duty of care. In most situations, a defendant owes a plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care. Any breach, or violation, of this duty of care, could constitute ordinary negligence. If a breach of duty causes an accident and personal injuries, the defendant may be liable for negligently causing the accident. Ordinary negligence typically does not refer to a crime or criminal intent. It refers to an action or omission that a normal person would not have made in the same circumstances.

Examples of Each Type of Negligence

Ordinary negligence occurs when someone does not take the right amount of care or reasonable precautions for a situation. Examples of ordinary negligence include running a stop sign, forgetting to clean up a spill in a grocery store or failing to notice a rotten stair on your staircase. Someone who commits ordinary negligence typically does not mean to cause harm to others. Under the rules of civil liability, however, the person will still be liable for damages that happen as a result of the negligence.

Gross negligence goes beyond an ordinary breach of duty. It can refer to someone who either intends to harm someone else or knows that his or her actions could harm someone, but does not care and performs the action anyway. Examples of gross negligence are shooting fireworks into a home, driving after having multiple alcoholic beverages and a doctor who prescribes a medication that is clearly on the patient’s drug allergy list.

Why the Difference Between Ordinary and Gross Negligence Matters

It is important to recognize the difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence during a personal injury claim. The California civil courts treat each type differently. For ordinary negligence, a defendant will have to pay a plaintiff restitution to make the plaintiff whole again. The extent of the defendant’s punishment is being liable for the accident victim’s full damages. If the defendant is guilty of gross negligence, however, he or she can face an additional punishment in the form of having to pay punitive damages.

Punitive damages are an additional type of award available during some personal injury claims in California. It is up to a judge’s discretion whether or not to award punitive damages to a plaintiff based on the evidence presented. If you wish to make a case for punitive damages, you or your personal injury lawyer will need to prove that the defendant acted with gross negligence, maliciousness, or intent to harm. If you succeed in proving gross negligence, the defendant may owe you an additional amount of money in punitive damages to pay for his or her gross degree of negligence. For more information about whether gross negligence or ordinary negligence applies to your case, contact an attorney near you.