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What Is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence?

Posted in personal injury on February 17, 2021

One of the most common words you will hear during a personal injury claim in San Antonio is “negligence.” A party’s negligence in Texas allows you to seek financial damages from that person for causing you harm. There is a difference, however, between ordinary negligence and gross negligence. While both can make you eligible for compensation, one may result in the defendant having to pay more.

4 Elements of Ordinary Negligence

Ordinary negligence refers to a party’s failure to use a reasonable degree of care, resulting in injury or harm to another person. Reasonable care describes what an ordinary person would do in the same or similar circumstances. If a driver was speeding in wet weather, for example, and caused a car accident, that driver is guilty of negligence.

Ordinary negligence consists of four key elements:

  1. The defendant had a responsibility to treat the plaintiff with a reasonable amount of care. In personal injury law, this responsibility is referred to as the duty of care.
  2. The defendant’s actions – or failure to act – made the defendant breach his or her duty of care to the plaintiff.
  3. The defendant’s breach of duty was the direct and/or actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
  4. The plaintiff suffered losses because of the defendant’s actions, such as injuries, hospital bills, property damage and lost wages.

In a case arguing ordinary negligence, a plaintiff does not have to prove the defendant was reckless or knew his or her actions could potentially cause an injury. It is enough for an ordinary negligence claim to show that the defendant breached a duty of care, even if this breach was accidental or unintentional. A claim based on gross negligence, however, is different.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is a more severe departure from the duty of care. Rather than a careless mistake or inattention, gross negligence is a willful or wanton disregard of the requirement to use reasonable care. Like ordinary negligence, it is not necessary to prove the defendant’s intent to harm for a gross negligence claim. However, a claim based on gross negligence must show the defendant’s conduct was willful, likely to cause foreseeable harm and done with an extreme disregard for the safety of others.

An example illustrating the difference between ordinary and gross negligence is if a driver isn’t paying attention and fails to notice he or she is exceeding the speed limit by a few miles per hour, he or she is negligent. If, however, the driver knowingly drives at an excessive speed in an area with a lot of pedestrians because he or she is late, the driver is grossly negligent.

Why Is the Difference Relevant to Your Personal Injury Case?

The difference between ordinary and gross negligence is important to understand as the plaintiff in a personal injury case due to the financial compensation that may be available. Although both types of negligence can cause serious injuries, gross negligence is more likely to lead to severe or catastrophic injuries. These injuries will, in general, be worth more in damages than minor injuries:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Ongoing treatments, such as rehabilitation and therapy
  • Permanent disability costs
  • Home and vehicle modifications
  • Lost wages and future capacity to earn
  • Past and future pain and suffering
  • Lost quality or enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Wrongful death benefits

In addition to greater compensation available for a more serious injury, gross negligence could also increase the amount of your award through punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a relatively uncommon type of award. Rather than making a victim whole again after an accident, punitive damages punish a defendant for especially egregious acts. In Texas, punitive damages may be available if a defendant exhibited behaviors that were grossly negligent, reckless, wanton, willful, malicious or intentional. Punitive damages are meant to penalize a defendant and deter him or her from making the same mistake in the future.

For more information about ordinary vs. gross negligence and how it may apply to your case, consult with a personal injury attorney in Dallas.