What Is So Different About Gross Negligence?

Posted on: 26 March 2020

When initially talking about a case with a personal injury lawyer, it's common for a prospective client to hear the term "negligence" thrown around. If the case involves extremely bad conduct on the part of the defendant, this may even lead to a discussion of gross negligence. What is gross negligence, and why does it matter?

Gross vs. Ordinary Negligence

The simplest way to define gross negligence involves comparing it to its more common legal cousin, ordinary negligence. Many forms of injury law cover ordinary negligence, such as the classic slip-and-fall accident on a wet floor at a store or the car accident involving a too-soon left turn. In these kinds of cases, someone certainly messed up and their failures led to another's injuries. However, the events were relatively in-the-moment things that aren't uncommon mistakes for people to make.

Most of the time, in fact, these sorts of mistakes occur without anything bad coming of them. Lots of floors are left wet and unmarked without anyone slipping in them. In other words, they're not extreme in nature.

When Negligence Becomes Gross

The basic idea of negligence hinges on the notion that each person owes it to their fellow human beings to not needlessly put them in harm's way. Failing to take reasonable precautions, such as putting out a wet floor sign, is negligent.

From the perspective of a personal injury lawyer services provider, things become grossly negligent when someone badly overlooks this duty. Worse, than a momentary lapse, gross negligence occurs when someone fails to care at the moment serious actions needed to be taken.

Suppose an electrical wire had been visibly exposed in an apartment building. Worse, suppose that the building's tenants had repeatedly informed the supervisor of the issue. If someone ended up being shocked by the wire, causing their heart to stop, they would have grounds to pursue a case based on gross negligence. This happens because society assigns a higher standard of harm when someone persistently overlooks dangerous things a reasonable person would expect them to fix.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are usually awarded in trials as a way for the jury to express their anger at a defendant's gross negligence. These are extra damages, over and above the standard compensation for medical bills, pain, suffering, and lost income. You won't see an insurance company offer punitive damages while settling a claim, but they may try to settle sooner and for more money to avoid a potentially bigger jury judgment.