Legally speaking, negligence refers to a careless conduct that is not expected from a reasonable person, under similar circumstances. Such negligent conduct of a person, if causes damage to another's person or property or both, it becomes actionable in a court of law. For example, a person who drives a vehicle is expected to set the emergency brake, before leaving the car. Suppose the driver forgets this and the vehicle rolls down the steep road, causing damage to a nearby shop. Here, the driver is negligent and the shop owner can initiate legal action against the former. Gross negligence is a concept related to negligence, but, is described as a higher degree of negligence.
Gross Negligence - Definition
It is defined as a reckless action that is done with willful disregard to the safety of a person or property of another. If negligence is a mere failure to act with reasonable care, gross negligence is an extreme form of negligence. If a person drives his vehicle that rams into the compound wall of another, causing some damage to the wall, such action can be considered as negligence. But, if the driver was driving the car under the influence of alcohol or was driving a vehicle that he knows to be in faulty condition or was driving at a very high speed that is above the legal limit, then, he can be made liable for gross negligence.
The basic difference between negligence and gross negligence is in the varying degrees of recklessness. It is also interpreted in some legal systems as the intentional and willful negligence. However, it is very difficult to draw a line between both and the difference between them is a much debated topic.
What Constitutes Gross Negligence
So, a willful and wanton conduct that causes harm to another's person or property or both, is termed gross negligence. Such an action must consist of certain elements, so as to make the person liable. So, the complainant has to prove these elements, for proving his case. The complainant has to prove that the defendant has a duty to the plaintiff as well the public in general, to act or refrain from acting in a certain manner. For example, the driver of a vehicle has the duty to drive it carefully and safely, so as to avoid accidents that can cause injury to the property or person of others.
The second element is the willful and inadvertent act of the defendant that violated his duty to the plaintiff. If the vehicle driver drives the vehicle under the influence of alcohol, the act is reckless and in violation of the duty to the plaintiff and the public in general. The complainant must also prove that the action of the defendant caused injury to him or his property or both. It must be proved that the injury caused could have been averted, if the defendant had acted right. In other words, the injury caused was a foreseeable consequence of the action of the defendant. The driver, who is fully aware of the fact that driving in an inebriated condition may cause accidents, drives the vehicle and causes injury to the complainant. So, such an injury is a foreseeable consequence of the driver's action. In order to prove gross negligence, the complainant must prove that the action of the defendant comprises these elements of negligence.
In short, gross negligence is an extreme form of negligence and is a much debated legal doctrine, which is difficult to prove. In case, the liability of the defendant is proved, he/she will be ordered to pay damages to the complainant. In certain regions, even punitive damages are awarded to the defendant, who is found guilty of gross negligence.