What Is The Difference Between Ordinary and Gross Negligence?

Posted on June 14, 2023

Most personal injury cases are based on negligence on the part of the person or entity at fault for the injury. The court defines a party’s act of negligence as breaching the duty of care to prevent harm to others by failing to take measures to prevent injury the way a reasonable person would have in the same circumstances.

For example, a reasonable hotel owner would have promptly repaired a broken handrail on a staircase and a driver acting reasonably behind the wheel would follow traffic laws and avoid distraction. 

When personal injury cases go before the court, a jury decides the case based on this definition of negligence and decides whether the defendant acted negligently and caused the plaintiff’s injury and resulting damages. The majority of personal injury claims based on this concept of negligence settle out of court when a Salt Lake City personal injury lawyer presents evidence of negligence to the insurance company of the party at fault.

When does negligence cease to be ordinary and become gross negligence? Understanding the difference between negligence and gross negligence makes a significant difference in a personal injury case.

What is Gross Negligence in a Personal Injury Case?

Civil laws in each state make it clear that people must take reasonable measures to prevent harm and avoid causing accidents and injury to others. In cases of negligence, the party at fault fails to take those reasonable measures without any intent to cause harm and typically without expecting their action or lack of action to result in an injury to another person—even if a reasonable person would have anticipated that an injury could occur.

On the other hand, if a person engages in extremely risky behavior and knowingly puts others at risk with total disregard for their safety, it’s more than negligence—it’s gross negligence.

An example of gross negligence would be speeding through the flashing lights in a school zone and hitting a child. The driver ignored the warning lights and school zone speed limit and knowingly engaged in behavior that put others at great risk.

When a person’s actions show a complete and careless disregard for the safety of others, it’s gross negligence. Those who commit gross negligence violate other people’s right to safety. When deciding on cases of gross negligence, those on a jury must ask themselves if a rational and reasonable person in the same situation would have recognized foreseeable harm to others in their actions.

The Damages in Gross Negligence Cases

An injury victim can make a claim to recover damages after an accident caused by another party’s negligence or gross negligence. Injuries lead to expensive medical treatments and lost income while the victim recovers. The party at fault for their injury is responsible for compensating them for these economic damages as well as compensation for the victim’s non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Typically, damages are paid through an insurance policy. 

When the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent and the behavior or action that caused the injury showed a wanton disregard for the safety of others or purposeful wrongdoing, it becomes a case of gross negligence. Often, victims of gross negligence can recover a greater amount for damages, including non-economic damages associated with trauma caused by the defendant’s actions such as:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Mental anguish
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety and depression

In a case of gross negligence that shows particularly egregious behavior, a jury could award the victim punitive damages paid by the defendant to the plaintiff. Punitive damages aren’t meant as compensation to the victim, but instead, serve as a punishment to the person who engaged in the grossly negligent behavior or committed the egregious action.

Punitive damages also act as a deterrent toward repeats of the behavior that caused the injury. Though not intended as compensation, an award for punitive damages can significantly increase the amount of money in damages an injury victim gains in a court case if there are adequate grounds.