Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld

December 3, 2021

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Gross negligence is a special kind of negligence that goes beyond the standard carelessness that you see in many personal injury claims.

There is a special level of reckless disregard for human health and property that is not found in ordinary negligence cases. It may be necessary to prove gross negligence in order to win certain personal injury lawsuits.

As an injured party, here is what you need to know about gross negligence.

Ordinary Negligence Defined

At common law, ordinary negligence means that a defendant has acted unreasonably under the circumstances. Negligence could be the result of an oversight, such as careless driving.

When one is considered negligence, it is apparent that they just made a careless mistake. They will need to pay the injured party for their damages, but their liability ends there.

The law assumes that a prudent person will take reasonable precautions to keep others safe. This is their legal duty.

The Duty of Care and Gross Negligence

In every negligence case, the defendant owed someone else the duty of care. The key question is what the defendant did and how the accident was caused.

Here, the person fails to uphold their duty of care. In gross negligence cases, the focus is on exactly how the defendant breached the duty of care and how their extreme carelessness caused your injuries.

This is the same as saying that they did not just act unreasonably, but they acted very unreasonably.

Why Is Gross Negligence Important?

Gross negligence still does not allow you to file a personal injury claim against your employer. However, it is important in several other respects.

The first is for the possibile assessment of punitive damages intended to punish the defendant for their conduct. T

hese damages would be in addition to the lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering and mental anguish that you would receive in a personal injury claim.

These damages are meant to send a message to the defendant about their very bad conduct. A jury is more likely to award punitive damages on a gross negligence claim.

The worse the breach of duty, the higher the chance that the jury may see enough to award punitive damages.

Legal Strategy for Gross Negligence Cases

The other party’s insurance company will not pay you punitive damages. Insurance companies will only pay for the actual damages caused by the responsible party.

If you have a case where the defendant’s gross negligence was outrageous enough to possibly warrant punitive damages, you may want to reconsider whether you try to see claim compensation from an insurance company or take your case to the jury, who may seek to punish the defendant.

This is a strategy determination that you would make in consultation with your personal injury lawyer.

Examples of Gross Negligence

Here are some things that may go beyond ordinary negligence.

These reckless or negligent actions are worse than just being considered negligent:

  • A drunk driver, well over the blood alcohol level, strikes and injures someone in a car accident (most car accidents are considered ordinary negligence).
  • A driver speeding makes drives recklessly in an area with heavy pedestrian traffic, making no attempt whatsoever to slow down.
  • A doctor prescribing medication does not check the other medications that the patient is taking, causing a severe drug reaction
  • Nursing home staff failing to watch and supervise a resident leaves the facility and is injured
  • A property owner intentionally leaves something dangerous in a pathway that they know that people travel (a property owner owes a duty of care to invitees and licensees)

Gross Negligence Often Involves Willful Misconduct

In many of these cases, even though the person did not try to injure someone else, there is some willful misconduct involved.

For example, when you have been injured by a drunk driver, they made the choice to drink before driving a car, even if they did not intend to injure you.

Nursing home staff makes a decision to shirk the responsibility of their job and their legal obligation to care for patients.

In ordinary negligence, the person could have a momentary lapse, or may just be having a bad day.

Gross negligence may originate from a pattern of conduct or actions that show a reckless disregard for human health and safety.

The Requirements of a Valid Personal Injury Lawsuit

In order to prove ordinary negligence, you must show the following elements in every case:

  • The other party owed you a duty of care
  • They did not uphold this duty of care because they did something that could be considered unreasonable under the circumstances
  • You suffered an injury
  • You would not have been injured had it not been for the act or omission of the defendant

You have the affirmative burden of proof for each of these four elements.

Presumably, if gross negligence was involved, it should be at least easier to show that there was some degree of negligence that could enable you to receive something for your case.

Proving Gross Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

The main thing in gross negligence cases is proving the defendant’s knowledge and state of mind. There needs to be some sort of blatant disregard for health and safety, even if there is no intent to injure.

In other words, the defendant acted unreasonably and did it knowing full well what may happen if they did. Sometimes, when they fall so far short of upholding the duty of care, gross negligence can be presumed. In other worse, in extreme cases, it can be a “negligence plus” case.

Gross Negligence vs. Willful Misconduct

There is a fine line between gross negligence and the willful misconduct necessary to sue your employer for personal injury damage.

In Illinois, willful misconduct is required to file a personal injury lawsuit against an employer.

The question is what conduct crosses the line from gross negligence to willful misconduct. There is more of a blurred line and less of a sharp distinction.

For willful misconduct, there must be some element of intentionally exposing an employee to danger. It goes beyond extreme carelessness.

They are deliberate actions undertaken with the full knowledge of the danger that the employees face.

Some examples of this willful behavior could include:

  • Sending employees into dangerous situations without the necessary personal protective equipment
  • Keeping employees working, knowing full well that they are being exposed to dangerous and toxic substances in the workplace
  • Having an employee operate machinery with the necessary safety guards removed
  • You have an altercation with a supervisor and are assaulted

There is a very high bar to proving willful misconduct. The employer would need to know that there is a very high likelihood that you would be injured by their actions.

What a Personal Injury Attorney Does in Gross Negligence Cases

Gross negligence cases require injured parties to come to the table with proof. This is where injury attorneys come into the picture.

Your lawyer will work to prove negligence. They may do the following:

  • Hire accident reconstruction experts to establish exactly what happened.
  • Review medical records in a medical malpractice case to discover the extreme indifference that the doctor showed
  • Interview witnesses to the accident to establish what the defendant did and the circumstances leading to the accident
  • Review any security camera footage of what happened

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation

The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury lawyers can help you hold someone legally responsible for what they did when their grossly negligent actions have injured you or a loved one.

A personal injury lawyer will gather evidence to help prove your case that someone acted with extreme disregard for your health and safety.

Our skilled attorneys are here for you every step of the way when you file a civil claim against the person responsible for your injuries.

Call our compassionate and skilled attorneys today or contact us online for your free consultation as you consider a civil lawsuit to seek compensation for your injuries.

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