Negligence is a broad word in the field of law, one that comes up often with personal injuries. Simply defined, negligence means carelessness. It’s the root of most car accidents, a likely factor in slip and fall cases, and can even be the cause of negligent security and food poisoning.

As you might imagine, some instances of negligence have more serious consequences than others. When an act of negligence not only displays a lack of care but demonstrates a reckless disregard for others’ safety, it can be classified as gross negligence.

To fully comprehend the differences between regular negligence and its more severe counterpart, you’ll need some background information. Let’s start with the basics.

Is Negligence a Civil or Criminal Affair?

Negligence can occur in both civil and criminal law.

Civil lawsuits are filed between two private parties to settle disputes and do not involve the government. This includes personal injury claims seeking to repair damages made by an organization or individual.

Criminal lawsuits are filed by a public court in an effort to hold people accountable for breaking the laws that keep society in check. Criminal law could lead to charges of murder, assault, or driving under the influence.

Negligence is found in both civil and criminal law because sometimes, negligence not only causes harm to an individual but also breaks the law to a degree that the government gets involved. We will focus primarily on civil negligence, but as you will soon see, the line gets blurred and negligence can be filed in both civil and criminal courts.

What Constitutes Negligence?

In order to successfully argue a personal injury case, you will need to show that negligence was involved. There are four main legal elements of negligence that must be present in order to prove that the other party is liable for the damages caused:

1. Duty of Care

To form a case based on negligence, a duty of care must be established. This means that a reasonable level of care was owed to the plaintiff. For example, restaurants have a duty to serve customers food that is free of contamination. Providing a safely stored and prepared product is a reasonable duty of care. Sometimes a duty of care is not so cut and dry and leaves lawyers and juries to their own interpretations of the situation.

2. Breach of Duty of Care

Once a duty of care has been established, lawyers must show that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care that was expected of them. Did a restaurant worker fail to wash produce properly? Did they not heat meat to a safe internal temperature? That’s a breach of the duty of care. The restaurant had a duty to provide customers with a safe product, and they failed to uphold that duty.

3. Causation

A case must demonstrate that the breach of duty is what caused harm to the plaintiff. How do you know that the restaurant’s food is what made you sick? Well, that’s a bit tougher to prove, but if the source can be isolated and identified, causation can be established. Using their resources to track down this information is part of a personal injury lawyer’s job.

4. Damages

Finally, you must be able to prove that damage was caused by the incident—and that it’s deserving of compensation. Maybe the foodborne illness experienced by the plaintiff led to hefty medical bills and forced them to take time off work. It probably caused pain and suffering and emotional distress, and potentially even temporary or permanent disability. These are all damages that could warrant compensation, and now you have a case of negligence.

So, What Makes Negligence “Gross”?

Now that you’re familiar with the basic elements of negligence, we can take it a step further. Whereas negligence means carelessness, gross negligence means recklessness. It’s a careless act that falls so short of upholding a reasonable standard of care that it’s just, well, gross.

Negligence could be a custodian failing to put up a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign after mopping and causing someone to slip, or a dog owner letting their canine off a leash and making it easier for a child to get bitten, or a restaurant worker haphazardly cooking meat and serving an unsafe meal that gets the customer sick.

Gross negligence would be a doctor prescribing medication to a patient whose file says they’re allergic, or a nursing home neglecting to provide residents with food and water, or a person getting behind the wheel of their car after a night of heavy drinking.

It’s an intentional or blatant disregard for others’ well-being.

What Happens When Gross Negligence Is Found in a Personal Injury Case?

If the defendant is found to have committed an act of gross negligence, as opposed to regular negligence, they are likely to face more severe consequences because they are likely to have caused more severe damages.

The plaintiff may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, temporary or permanent impairments and disabilities, lost income, loss of earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment of life, to name a few. Ultimately, the damages sought by a plaintiff depend on the magnitude of their physical, mental, and financial injuries.

Often, a victim of gross negligence will not only seek compensation for personal damages but also sue for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant so that they don’t act recklessly again and endanger more lives.

How Quickly Do Gross Negligence Claims Need to Be Filed?

Generally, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims involving gross negligence is two years from the injury date, meaning the victim of the negligence has some time to file a lawsuit. The same timeline applies to suits involving regular negligence and negligence per se.

Still, there can be exceptions to the two-year deadline, especially when the government is involved in an incident. Personal injury lawyers can help determine the deadline and ensure that a victim of gross negligence has adequate representation when forming a case.