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Gross Negligence

Updated: March 28, 2023
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What is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is a legal term that refers to one’s reckless conduct that results in financial damages to another party. Typically, the wrongdoer failed to meet their duty of care, a standard under common contract law and is the most legally actionable type of negligence. Individuals in positions where their actions affect the safety and well-being of others must take special care to consider the risks associated with their efforts.

This web page also defines gross negligence.

3 Levels of Negligence

Negligence occurs when reasonable care is not exercised. However, negligence comes in varying degrees. Different degrees of harmful behavior can significantly impact your situation depending upon the facts and circumstances. The three levels of negligence include ordinary, gross, and willful negligence.

Let’s examine the three levels a little more closely below:

Level 1. Ordinary Negligence

The “reasonable person” standard requires individuals to act in the manner that a reasonably prudent person would in similar circumstances. Ordinary negligence is when one party fails to meet this standard. Civil law requires individuals to take reasonable precautions to protect themselves and others from harm. The law imposes a proper care duty.

Those harmed by someone who violates this duty may seek redress through an insurance claim or civil litigation. This ordinary “reasonable person” standard usually applies to various claims involving catastrophic injury accidents and defective product claims.

Level 2. Gross Negligence

Gross negligence describes conduct that is significantly more severe than ordinary negligence and equates to a demonstrated indifference to the value of human life. Courts have defined gross negligence as an egregious violation of a legal duty to protect the rights of others. The type of culpability that characterizes negligence is magnified significantly in gross negligence compared to ordinary negligence.

Level 3. Willful, Wanton, and Reckless Behavior

Willful, wanton, and reckless behavior occurs on the cusp of actual intent. For a case to meet this standard, it requires a high level of probability that substantial harm would happen to another party. There are two distinctions between willful, wanton, reckless behavior, and negligence, including disregarding an unreasonable risk intentionally and a high probability of causing significant harm.

Gross Negligence Examples

Gross negligence in business is more challenging to recognize since the “devil is in the details.” There are several instances in business where gross negligence occurs. Business owners can obtain injunctive relief from further acts if the wrongdoer continues to act with malice.

Here are a few examples of gross negligence in the business environment:

Example 1: Intellectual Property Theft

Infringement of intellectual property, even for a single day, can be extremely costly to the property’s owner. For example, business owners can obtain injunctive relief to stop competitors from selling their products. Or, trademark owners can get injunctive relief to stop manufacturing and selling counterfeit products bearing the owner’s trademark.

Example 2. Client Theft

You can seek redress if an ex-employee starts poaching valuable clients. However, they may have needed to sign a non-compete agreement and whether they are poaching in areas where they are not permitted. Criteria may include the distance traveled by a former employee when interacting with clients and a period during which the individual is prohibited from engaging in this industry.

Example 3. Fiduciary Breaches

Relief is beneficial in cases where a company fiduciary begins acting detrimentally to the business. For example, consider what would happen if one partner began selling massive company assets without the other partner’s approval or agreement. Timely intervention can halt the bleeding long enough for the parties to determine what is happening.

Example 4. Breach of Contract

Contracts are taken seriously in business. They establish a written agreement and specify a forum for resolving disagreements. Breaching a contract can include failing to pay vendors for services rendered.

While courts typically award money to the innocent party to compensate for the damages, an injunction may also be used. You could also enter into a negotiated settlement agreement or arbitration agreement if you want to avoid a civil court, judge, and jury. Doing so could reduce overall litigation costs while reaching a private settlement.

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How Do You Prove Gross Negligence?

Most contract law cases involve an element of negligence. The victim must prove the other party’s gross negligence to recover damages following a breach of contract event. However, the responsible party’s actions could exceed ordinary negligence, which the law defines as gross negligence.

Demonstrating gross negligence requires establishing that the defendant willfully violated a duty of care or purposefully injured another, including the following four elements:

  • The defendant owed you a general or medical duty of care
  • The defendant breached their duty with negligence
  • The defendant’s negligence caused you harm
  • The harm resulted in your financial losses

Gross negligence occurred when the responsible party acted “grossly” irresponsible, falling far short of the standard of care. To establish gross negligence, an accident victim must convince the courts that the defendant was aware that their actions were dangerous but proceeded anyway.

Civil Courts Demand Evidence

Presenting all relevant evidence to civil judges and effectively demonstrating the circumstances will assist the judges and the jury in making an informed decision. A contract lawyer can be instrumental in presenting all the facts to the courts and successfully demonstrating that the other party was grossly negligent.

Evidence that you can present includes:

  • Audio and video recordings
  • Eyewitness statements
  • Expert testimony
  • Forensic analysis
  • Police reports
  • Copies of contracts
  • Financial statements
  • And more

One essential element of a gross negligence case is that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant willfully violated their legal duty of care. For example, if someone ran a stop sign and collided with another vehicle, this may be considered ordinary negligence. However, if an individual was driving drunk at the time, it may be gross negligence.

Difference Between Gross Negligence and Negligence

Negligence is one person or entity failing to exercise the care and caution that a reasonable person would have under the same circumstances. It is frequently the result of a careless error or inattention that results in an injury.

On the other hand, gross negligence is the willful and reckless disregard for safety and reasonable treatment. In both instances, the fundamental disregard for responsibility must directly harm another person, their property, or both.

When Does Negligence Become Gross Negligence?

Negligence becomes gross negligence when the tortfeasor, or defendant, exhibits behaviors that disregard the value of human life or envelop a case of intentional wrongdoing. For example, employers have a duty to keep employees safe under laws and employment contracts. Still, accidents happen in the workplace due to negligence routinely. However, in this same situation, gross negligence could be if the employer knew about a hazardous area for months, made jokes about it, or tried to make the conditions worse, and then an employee lost their life.

Do you need legal advice on contract law and gross negligence? If so, you should speak with a contract lawyer to help you approach the legal process. They can devise solutions, communicate on your behalf, and reach an agreement with your company in mind so that you get the outcome you deserve.

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