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Defining Negligence vs. Gross Negligence

In California law, negligence is the failure to act with reasonable caution which results in injury to another party. Gross negligence takes the definition further, suggesting that the person acted in extreme reckless disregard.

The difference between negligence vs. gross negligence is that negligent actions are unknowing oversights to the health and safety of others, but grossly negligent actions blatantly ignore others’ safety to the point of risking excess injury.

A person acting in gross negligence chooses to ignore reasonable precautions, putting others at extreme risk of injury that could be avoided with reasonable care.

How Do You Prove Ordinary Negligence?

According to Cornell Law School, there are four conditions that need to be proven for an ordinary negligence claim:

  • The defendant owed a reasonable duty of care to the plaintiff at the time of the accident.
  • The defendant did not provide that duty because he/she was negligent.
  • The plaintiff suffered an injury.
  • That negligence contributed to the injury of the plaintiff.

If a teacher failed to take attendance that resulted in a missing child, if a store owner didn’t put a wet floor sign near a puddle and it caused a fall, or if someone ignored a stop sign and rear-ended someone, all of these are examples of a potential negligence claim.

Koffman v. Garnett is a clear example of ordinary negligence where a football coach slammed one of his students on the ground despite weighing considerably more than the student, breaking his bones.

Because the coach knew their size difference as well as implicit directions for Andrew to not defend himself, the coach acted with excessive force and was guilty of negligence.

What is Considered Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is a step above ordinary negligence in that extreme injury was caused by a deliberate disregard for the safety of others. Any reasonable person can assess the defendant’s actions as a serious risk to human life and safety.

Examples of gross negligence include:

  • Driving under the influence and speeding in a populated school zone.
  • A health inspector clearing a restaurant despite knowing they serve rotten food.
  • A surgeon causing unnecessary, irreparable damage to their patient during an operation.

Green v. Ingram is an example of gross negligence where Sergeant George J. Ingram fired his shotgun through a door five times to break through a deadlock, but killed Christie D. Green with the surrounding shots.

Under Virginia Law, Ingram practiced gross negligence because he deviated from intended SWAT training, firing at the wood and not the metal where the deadbolt was located. His behavior showed “indifference to others as constitutes an utter disregard of prudence…”, a sign of gross negligence.

Legal Defenses in A Negligence Claim

The defense can make a number of arguments to disprove a negligence claim:

  • The defendant does not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff was responsible for their injury.
  • The plaintiff accepted the risks associated with their actions that caused the injury.

Despite the arguments, it will be worth talking to a legal professional due to California’s comparative negligence law, in which plaintiffs can collect damages even if the defendant is only partially negligent.

Recoverable Damages

There are three types of damages victims can be awarded when involved in a negligence claim in California:

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the objective monetary losses that can be calculated by adding bills, receipts, and other verifiable sources. Repair bills, lost wages, and medical fees are examples of economic damages

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are the subjective, non-monetary losses that occur in an accident like pain and suffering, loss of family, or emotional distress. These losses can be harder to prove, but with an experienced legal attorney, victims can be compensated for their non-economic damages.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are often rewarded in grossly negligent cases, where the guilty party was so grossly negligent that the court further penalized them with damages to prevent this situation from happening in the future.

Punitive damages are awarded depending on how reckless the defendant’s behavior was and how much damage they caused to the plaintiff and the ones around them through their behavior.

WCTL Specializes In Negligence Claims

At West Coast Trial Lawyers, we understand the serious impacts another person’s negligent actions can have on your life. Our serious legal team will go to bat for your rights, even when it means going to trial. We won over $1.5 billion total in settlements for our clients, and we can provide the same services for you.

Call us today at  213-996-0790 or filling out our contact form to schedule a free consultation with our experienced legal team.

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