What Is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence?

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If someone else injures you in Nebraska, you may have the right to file a claim against that person for damages. Before you can receive benefits, however, you will have to prove negligence. On a legal level, two different standards of negligence exist: ordinary and gross negligence. The type of negligence involved in your case can change how much you receive in compensation.

What Is Ordinary Negligence?

The burden of proof in most personal injury cases is enough evidence to establish the defendant as more likely than not responsible for the plaintiff’s damages. Responsibility for damages typically comes down to who was negligent. Negligence is a legal term that means a breach of duty of care. A breach of duty is an avoidable error, action or omission that prevents the defendant from fulfilling the standards of reasonable care for the situation.

Ordinary negligence has four elements: a duty of care owed to the plaintiff, this duty of care breached by the defendant, causation for the accident or injury in question, and damages suffered. If a plaintiff can prove that the defendant disregarded the ordinary standards of care for the situation, and an injury resulted from this, the defendant will owe the plaintiff compensation for causing the harm.

Ordinary negligence does not require proof that the defendant had malicious intentions or even that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff. It simply asks for proof that the defendant was careless in a way that another reasonable and prudent person would not have been in the same situation, and that this is what caused the victim’s damages. Proving ordinary negligence often requires evidence such as testimony from an expert who can attest to the standard of care.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence amplifies the behavior or misconduct of ordinary negligence. It is a degree of negligence so severe that it reaches the level of recklessness, maliciousness or a wanton disregard for the safety of others. It is an indifference so severe that it appears to be a conscious violation of others’ rights to safety. Someone who is grossly negligent may recognize the foreseeable risk of harm to others but commit the action anyway.

Examples of negligence include a driver running a stop sign, an employee ignoring a spill in a store and a pet owner walking a dog without a leash. Examples of gross negligence include excessive speeding in a school zone, a truck driver knowingly driving past the hours of service regulations, and a surgical team failing to count all objects before and after an operation. Injuries and losses connected to gross negligence are typically more severe than ordinary negligence.

Why Does the Type of Negligence Matter?

Differentiating between ordinary and gross negligence can make a difference to the financial outcome of your injury claim. The courts penalize gross negligence more heavily than ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence will force a defendant to pay for a victim’s related losses to make the victim whole again. Gross negligence, however, could lead to additional compensation as a punishment against the defendant. Standard damages refer to a victim’s past and future economic and noneconomic losses.

  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of personal enjoyment
  • Property damages
  • Legal fees

Punitive damages are recoverable in Nebraska in a case where a defendant is guilty of extremely negligent or intentional actions that injured the plaintiff. If you or your personal injury lawyer can prove gross negligence, you can recover for all of these losses and more. A judge in Omaha may award you punitive damages on top of compensatory damages to penalize the defendant. Working with a lawyer can improve your chances of proving gross negligence and securing punitive damages in addition to compensatory ones.