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What is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence?

What is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence?

If you are planning on filing a personal injury lawsuit, you will need to prove that the defendant acted negligently. The legal theory of negligence is important in personal injury lawsuits. There are several elements you will need to prove to show negligence. A personal injury attorney will gather evidence showing clear and convincing evidence that every element has been met. Two main types of negligence could apply to your case, ordinary negligence and gross negligence. If you are interested in filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is important that you understand the difference between these two legal theories.

Understanding the Concept of Negligence

The idea of negligence is at the backbone of most personal injury cases. There are some cases that involve intentional actions. For example, if the defendant punched a child and caused serious issues to his jaw, the victim can sue the defendant to recover damages. However, most personal injury lawsuits involved a defendant who acted carelessly, recklessly, or negligently. In other words, most lawsuits involved a defendant who did not intend to cause harm to another person. When the plaintiff can prove that someone acted negligently and their negligence caused their injury, they can recover damages for their economic and non-economic injuries. 

Ordinary negligence occurs when a person fails to use reasonable care under the circumstances. Everyone has a legal duty to try to exercise the same amount of care that a reasonable or prudent person would under similar circumstances. If a reasonable person would take a certain action under the circumstances, so should the defendant. Conversely, if the reasonable person would not have taken a certain action under the circumstances, the defendant should not have taken action.

For example, all drivers have a duty of care to everyone else on the road. This duty of care involves driving safely and following all traffic laws. Suppose a driver was texting while driving through an intersection. The driver looked down and missed seeing the red light. As a result, the driver ran through the red light and hit a pedestrian who was lawfully crossing the street at the intersection. In this case, the driver breached his duty of care to the pedestrian to drive reasonably under the circumstances. Texting while driving is not driving reasonably because it is so unsafe. 

The Difference Between Ordinary and Gross Negligence

In negligence-based lawsuits, there are two main types of legal theories the plaintiff can use. The plaintiff may claim that the defendant engaged in ordinary negligence or gross negligence. The key difference between these two forms of negligence involves the severity of the breach of the defendant’s duty of care. How severely did the defendant breach the duty of care they owed the plaintiff?

Ordinary negligence is a legal term that refers to the regular definition of negligence we discussed above. In the case of ordinary negligence, the at-fault party breaches their duty of care in a way that causes injury or death to another person or people. Gross negligence happens when the at-fault party demonstrates extreme indifference for the defendant’s safety. Gross negligence can also occur when the defendant shows a reckless disregard for the defendant’s safety. The plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions or inactions demonstrated willful behavior and an extreme disregard for human life and safety. Examples of cases that demonstrate gross negligence include the following:

  • A driver speeding through an area with lots of pedestrians 
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Nursing home staff failing to provide food and water to a resident for several days
  • Shooting a gun in the air in a crowded area
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • A driver aggressively speeding and cutting off other vehicles

It is not enough to show that the plaintiff made a mistake or acted carelessly to prove that gross negligence occurred. Instead, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant decided or intended to engage in willful behavior was an extreme disregard for human life. If you are wondering whether or not you can prove gross negligence, we recommend discussing your case with an experienced attorney. An attorney can evaluate the facts in your unique case and help you understand whether you should use gross negligence or ordinary negligence as your legal argument.

Proving Ordinary or Gross Negligence

Proving negligence can be challenging, especially when the facts of the case are disputed. Regardless of whether your case involves ordinary or gross negligence, you and your attorney will need to take the same steps to prove that negligence was a cause in your case. Your attorney will carefully investigate your case to gather evidence that supports the following four elements you need to prove to establish negligence in a personal injury case:

  • The at-fault party owed you a duty of care
  • The at-fault party breached his or her duty of care through his or her action or inaction
  • The breach of care directly caused your injuries
  • You suffered damages because of these injuries

Plaintiffs need to prove all of these elements by providing clear and convincing evidence. 

Contact an Experienced Attorney

If you have been injured because of another person’s negligence, it’s important that you discuss your case with an attorney as soon as possible. The sooner your attorney can begin gathering evidence, the more likely you will be able to prove that ordinary negligence or gross negligence has occurred. Determining and proving negligence will be necessary for a successful personal injury lawsuit or Insurance claim against the defendant. Collecting the evidence needed to prove negligence requires the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Contact James A. Rice, an experienced Atlanta personal injury attorney, as soon as possible. He offers potential clients a free initial consultation. He will help you understand your legal options so you can begin planning your next steps.

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