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Difference between negligence and gross negligence

To have a successful personal injury suit, an injured person must prove that the liable party acted negligently and that their negligence directly caused the incident that then caused the injury.

There are several types of negligence, although the most common are ordinary negligence and gross negligence.

We’ll focus on these two today because they are the two most commonly seen in Colorado personal injury cases.

Keep reading to learn more, then contact the Denver personal injury attorneys with Zaner Harden Law for further guidance.

difference between negligence and gross negligence

What is ordinary negligence?

Negligence describes the failure of an individual or entity to behave with a reasonable level of care. There are four elements that must be proven for a successful negligence claim:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
  2. The defendant breached or violated that duty;
  3. The defendant’s breach caused an accident or incident; and
  4. The plaintiff was injured or suffered financial losses as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty.

Evaluating negligence can be subjective, so courts often look at what a reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances to determine if they were negligent.

Ordinary negligence can be intentional or unintentional, resulting from carelessness, ignorance, or inattention.

The person or business may not have been aware at the time that their actions could cause harm to another individual, but that doesn’t relieve them of their duty of care.

What is gross negligence?

Gross negligence is a heightened form of negligence. It’s not just carelessness—instead, it involves egregious recklessness or disregard for the safety of others.

Because this type of negligence is more extreme, injured parties are often able to recover punitive damages in addition to economic and non-economic damages.

For an act to be considered gross negligence, the responsible party must have been deliberately negligent.

Even if they didn’t intend to cause harm, they must have been aware that their actions were likely to cause someone to be injured. In these circumstances, only luck would have prevented harm from occurring.

Key differences

Ordinary negligence Gross negligence
Absent-mindedness Deliberate indifference
Often the result of a momentary lapse in judgment or failure to realize that something could cause harm Knowingly disregarding a risk

To illustrate this distinction, if a driver runs a stop sign because they were distracted and simply didn’t notice the sign, this would likely be seen as ordinary negligence.

However, if they saw the stop sign and ignored it, this could be classified as gross negligence because a reasonable driver would know that running a stop sign is likely to cause an accident.

As another example, let’s look at a surgeon who made an error while operating on a patient.

If the surgeon made an honest mistake while operating, such as improperly closing an incision during a moment of inattention, this could qualify as ordinary negligence.

However, if the surgeon operated on the wrong body part because they didn’t look at the patient’s records before beginning surgery, this could be considered gross negligence.

In this case, a reasonable surgeon would know that checking the patient’s records is necessary to avoid making a mistake like this, so failing to do so could be seen as a blatant disregard for the patient’s safety.

Practical distinctions

One of the most important practical distinctions is that actions considered to be gross negligence are more likely to lead to larger awards in personal injury cases.

When an injured party files a personal injury claim, they may seek several types of damages.

These include compensatory damages to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other direct costs, in addition to their pain and suffering and other intangible losses.

Plaintiffs may also seek punitive damages, which are intended to punish the responsible party for particularly harmful conduct rather than for compensating the victim of the negligence.

While compensatory damages are likely to be awarded in cases involving any type of negligence, punitive damages are reserved for cases involving gross negligence.

By awarding punitive damages, courts send a message that the responsible party’s actions were so extreme as to warrant punishment.

There are also differences in how waivers come into play in ordinary and gross negligence cases. Waivers are often used to protect businesses from liability if a customer gets injured, but they’re usually limited to cases involving ordinary negligence.

If a business was found to be grossly negligent, a waiver might not protect them from liability.

Consult an attorney for further guidance

Ultimately, the line between ordinary and gross negligence can be a tricky one to draw because it might not be black and white.

The facts of each case must be carefully examined to determine whether the responsible party was careless or reckless in their actions.

As an added complexity, when gross negligence is suspected, it can be difficult to demonstrate that the responsible party was aware of the risks they were taking and willfully decided to ignore them.

Proving gross negligence is worth the effort because it can lead to increased compensation for victims of serious injury and a greater sense of justice.

If you’re considering filing a personal injury claim, a Denver personal injury attorney at Zaner Harden Law can help you determine whether ordinary or gross negligence may be at play.

With our help, you can develop a compelling case that seeks maximum compensation for your injuries.

Get started today with a free consultation by calling (720) 613-9706.

Contact our Denver Personal Injury Law Firm Today For Help

For more information please contact Zaner Harden Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free initial consultation with a Denver personal injury lawyer.

Zaner Harden Personal Injury Lawyers

1610 Wynkoop Street, Suite 120. Denver, CO 80202
(720) 613 9706

Where We Are

We are located across the street from Union Station in downtown Denver and offer validated parking for all our clients. We also have offices in Boulder and Colorado Springs.