What Is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence?

Negligence can serve as the foundation of a personal injury claim in New Jersey. This is a type of civil claim that gives an injured accident victim the opportunity to hold someone accountable for his or her injuries. Gross negligence is a related but separate legal concept that may also play a part in a personal injury case, depending on the circumstances.

What Is Ordinary Negligence?

Ordinary negligence, as defined by the Legal Information Institute, is the failure to act or behave with the level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have used in the same or similar circumstances. Negligence may be accidental or unintentional and is often connected to inattention or carelessness. It can refer to an act or omission.

The legal concept of negligence contains four parts:

  1. Duty of care owed: an individual had an obligation to act in a way that a reasonably prudent person would have in similar circumstances.
  2. Duty of care breached: the individual committed an act or omission that violated the standard of care owed to others.
  3. Causation: the individual’s failure to exercise ordinary care resulted in harm or injury to another person; in other words, it was the proximate cause or the cause-in-fact.
  4. Damages: the injured victim suffered compensable damages due to the act of negligence, such as physical injuries and medical bills.

Evidence demonstrating these four elements as more likely to be true than not true during a personal injury claim can result in the victim being awarded financial compensation from the negligent party. One of the factors when determining negligence is the foreseeable likelihood that the accused party or defendant’s conduct would result in harm to others.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is a level of neglect or disregard that goes beyond ordinary negligence. It is a more extreme example of carelessness that demonstrates a conscious disregard for the safety and health of others. If someone behaves in a manner that exhibits a wanton, willful or reckless disregard for foreseeable risks of harm to others, he or she is guilty of gross negligence.

Examples of gross negligence are a motor vehicle driver operating a vehicle at an excessive speed on a rainy day or a health care provider performing a medical procedure he or she is not qualified for. In the context of a personal injury case, gross negligence can result in more severe consequences for the defendant, such as criminal liability and a higher amount awarded to the plaintiff.

What Is the Significance of Ordinary vs. Gross Negligence?

During legal proceedings, the distinction between ordinary negligence and gross negligence can have important implications. It can alter the amount of financial compensation awarded to the plaintiff or injured party. New Jersey juries are given instructions with a “negligence continuum” to reference when determining award amounts.

The continuum begins with ordinary negligence, which is the least severe type of defendant conduct, and continues to intentional misconduct – the most severe. Gross negligence is directly after ordinary negligence, followed by willful and wanton misconduct, reckless misconduct, and intentional misconduct.

Evidence of gross negligence by a defendant can result in a higher damage award for the victim, such as punitive damages. N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.12 states that punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages if the plaintiff specifically makes this request and proves using clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is guilty of actual malice or a wanton and willful disregard of foreseeable harm.

To find out if you are eligible for punitive damages as a victim of gross negligence in New Jersey, contact a Hackensack personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Hasson, P.C. to request a free case consultation.