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What is gross negligence?

In personal injury law, most cases rely on the concept of “ordinary negligence.” Legally speaking, ordinary negligence occurs when someone fails to act with ordinary prudence or care in a situation, either through action or by failing to act. When harm is the result of negligence, a lawsuit can help the victim recover financially through the awarding of damages.

There are times, though, when the simple definition of ordinary negligence isn’t enough, because the situation involved a real and blatant disregard for the safety of others. This type of situation is called “gross negligence.” Here’s what you need to know about gross negligence, how it affects your case, and how you can get legal help if you’ve been injured.

Understanding Legal Negligence

To understand gross negligence, it’s important to first understand that ordinary negligence cases have four key components that must be proven in court to be successful. These components are:

  • The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the injured party.
  • There must have been a breach of that duty.
  • The breach of duty must have been the proximate (immediate) cause of harm.
  • There must be damages that can be compensated for.

Ordinary negligence law says that victims need only demonstrate these facts to the jury with a “preponderance of evidence.” This means that the defendant has a burden of proof to show—using better evidence than the plaintiff—that he or she did not breach a duty of care in a harmful way.

If the jury decides, based on the evidence presented by both sides, that the defendant is more likely guilty than not, then the victim is able to receive a financial award (called damages) to compensate for his or her losses. This can include economic damages, such as medical bills, rehabilitation, property replacement, and other real costs or expenses. It can also include non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, emotional pain and anguish, disfigurement, inconvenience, and more.

How Is Gross Negligence Different From Ordinary Negligence?

Gross negligence is a stronger charge than ordinary negligence and comes with greater legal consequences for the defendant, so the court requires a higher legal standard of evidence. For gross negligence, the victim must provide evidence that is “clear and convincing” in order to succeed with his or her claim, which can be challenging. Texas negligence laws state:

  • There must be “an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others.”
  • The actor must have “actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.”

If both of these conditions can be proven in a “clear and convincing” manner to the court and the jury unanimously agrees, the victim becomes eligible to receive a third type of damage award, called exemplary or punitive damages. Exemplary damages are intended to punish the defendant financially, as well as act as a deterrent against similar behavior in the future, either by the defendant or others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Since gross negligence cases involve proving intent and have such a higher evidentiary standard, the legal process can be more intensive and time-consuming than an ordinary negligence case. You’ll need help from an experienced personal injury attorney who understands the challenges inherent in a gross negligence case. He or she will be able to advise you about all of your legal options, and whether your case meets the criteria of gross negligence.

Get Legal Help Today

If you’ve been harmed by somebody’s carelessness, recklessness, or wrongdoing and don’t know who to turn to for legal help, Wayne Wright LLP is here for you. We’ve made it our job to stand up for the rights of victims of accidents and injuries, so that they can get the compensation that they’re owed in a court of law. To get help from an experienced legal professional, call us by phone, use the contact form to send an email, or click the live chat box on this page to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with us about your legal situation today.