What is Gross Negligence? – Difference Between Negligence vs. Gross Negligence


Cassandra Nguy

Negligence is often depicted as failing to perform one’s duty of care as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. Gross negligence is a step above in severity, where one’s actions indicate a severe and reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others.

Gross negligence indicates a conscious disregard for reasonably exercising proper care for others. For example, running a red light and killing a pedestrian properly following traffic laws may be gross negligence on the driver’s part.

Common scenarios where gross negligence may apply include:

  • A surgeon knowingly leaving foreign material inside their patient
  • Drunk driving accidents where a driver negligently endangered multiple pedestrians
  • A business knowingly selling a dangerous defective product
  • Nursing home staff neglecting to feed or bath residents for multiple days

To prevent further dangerous behavior from happening again, you may sue the at-fault party for extra damages.

The court may award thousands of dollars more in damages if gross negligence played a role in your claim. To do that successfully, you may need a personal injury attorney on your side.

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What is Gross Negligence?

When someone endures severe consequences due to another party’s egregiously reckless or malicious actions, gross negligence has occurred. This type of negligence presents itself when a person’s actions indicate the following:

  1. Reckless disregard for others’ safety
  2. Evident lack of concern for upholding one’s legal duty of care

Each state has its own negligence laws that dictate how much fault each party gets for personal injury claims.

Types of Negligence Laws

Each state determines negligence differently, which may affect how you qualify for gross negligence in your personal injury claim. To maximize your chances of qualifying for damages under gross negligence, you’ll need a personal injury attorney.

  • Contributory Negligence—plaintiffs cannot recover damages if they’re slightly at-fault for the accident; sometimes even 1% affects their standing. States and districts that follow this rule are:
    • Alabama
    • Washington D.C.
    • Maryland
    • North Carolina
    • Virginia
  • Comparative Negligence—a negligence rule that allows someone partially at-fault to receive damages, depending on their level of liability for the accident. Most U.S. states enact comparative negligence, and it comes as two forms:
    • Pure Comparative Negligence: Allows plaintiffs to recover compensation regardless of their level of fault. However, the amount recovered may be reduced based on the extent of the fault.
    • Modified Comparative Negligence: Depending on the state, the plaintiff can’t recover damages if they are 51% or more at-fault.

South Dakota is the only state to use slight versus gross negligence for personal injury claims. In slight-gross negligence, if the plaintiff’s negligence is considered slight and the defendant’s negligence is deemed gross, the plaintiff may receive damages.

What is the Difference Between Negligence and Gross Negligence?

The difference between negligence and gross negligence is the level of disregard for reasonable care in one’s surroundings.

Ordinary negligence occurs when the person never intended to or meant to minimize the damage done to others around them. Gross negligence is being aware of the obvious danger in one’s actions, and proceeding to perform them anyways.

For instance, your dog has no history of bite attacks and accidentally bites another person. This may be ordinary negligence if you didn’t know of your dog’s dangerous behavior or attempted to restrain your pet.

However, if you were aware of your dog’s protective tendencies, disregarded adding extra precautions, and someone was fatally mauled, this may be considered gross negligence.

How to Prove Ordinary Negligence

Proving ordinary negligence in a personal injury case is determined under four categories. Sometimes the evidence for negligence is so strong that a trial may be required, just under a first impression.

  1. Duty—the measure of how reasonable or legal the defendant acted to the plaintiff and others in an accident. For example, drivers are expected to follow stop signs and yield to pedestrians on the road.
  2. Breach—the defendant breached that legal duty by failing to act within reason. For instance, running a red light when they should’ve stopped under the basic traffic law.
  3. Causation—the fact that the defendant’s action or inaction has caused injury to the plaintiff. The driver running the red light could’ve stopped and prevented the accident.
  4. Damage—the plaintiff was injured due to the defendant’s actions. The driver failed to consider the safety of others when running the red light and has now caused injury to the plaintiff.

Each of these categories are subjective and can go either way in court for the plaintiff and defendant. You’ll need a legal expert to analyze your case and present powerful evidence to prove each aspect of negligence.

Proving Gross Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

To prove gross negligence in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff must present evidence that supports the four categories found in ordinary negligence claims. They must also convince the judge or jury how reckless or extreme the defendant’s actions were when causing injury and disregarding others’ safety.

The plaintiff should hold evidence like pictures, videos, witness statements, police reports (if the police were involved), medical documentation, etc.

What is the Penalty for Gross Negligence?

The penalties for gross negligence in the US may differ depending on the jurisdiction and severity of your lawsuit. The party guilty of gross negligence may pay special damages to cover any expenses the victim incurred during the incident.

Damages for Gross Negligence

General damages may be compensated to the victim for:

Economic Damages—actual financial damages accrued during the accident.

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of earnings
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Rehabilitation costs 
  • Out-of-pocket medications or expenses related to injury

Non-economic Damages—compensation for non-financial losses, often intangible but relevant and powerful.

  • Pain and suffering
  • Reputational damage
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Emotional distress, depression, or anxiety
  • Scars and disfigurement

Punitive Damages

The jury may levy punitive damages based on how grossly negligent the defendant acted. Punitive damages are punishments to prevent other bad actors from acting the same way in the future.

These punitive damages are awarded by the court of law to not compensate the victim, but punish the defendant for their gross negligence.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney With LegalASAP

LegalASAP can help you find a personal injury attorney if you were injured or your property was damaged due to the other party’s gross negligence. We understand your pain and suffering, so we are here to help you fight for your losses.

If you think hiring an attorney is costly, keep in mind some of our connections work under contingency fees. This means there are no attorney fees if you lose your case. Any questions or concerns you may have that can’t wait? You may call our hotline at 888-927-3080 and we will do our best to answer your inquiries.

Submit a quick short evaluation form and see if you qualify for a personal injury claim.

Cassandra Nguy

Cassandra Tran Nguy is a legal writer living in Los Angeles, California. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Northridge with a B.A. in English Creative Writing and a minor in Marketing. Visit her online profile at linkedin.com