A personal injury lawsuit usually involves making a claim of negligence against a defendant. For negligence to apply, the defendant must have breached a legal duty of care owed to the plaintiff. Many legal duties require a person to act reasonably with respect to some hazard: a driver is expected to take reasonable care to drive safely, a homeowner is expected to take reasonable precautions to prevent injuries to guests. In an ordinary personal injury case, the reasonableness standard can lead to close calls, requiring careful argumentation and a close analysis of the facts of the injury.
Sometimes a personal injury results from behavior that is well beyond what anyone could term “reasonable.” In such cases a plaintiff can pursue a claim of gross negligence, which is distinguished from ordinary negligence by the availability of punitive damages to a successful plaintiff.
In many respects a gross negligence case is no different from an ordinary negligence case. The plaintiff still has the burden of proving each of the elements of negligence in order to prevail. The defendant must have owed the plaintiff a duty of care, as determined by statute, regulation, or legal precedent. The defendant must have breached that duty of care, and as a consequence of that breach the plaintiff must have suffered a harm that can be compensated through the legal process.
A claim of gross negligence must be supported by an additional set of facts laid on top of the ordinary negligence case. In 1941’s Hart v. Kline case, the Nevada Supreme Court explained gross negligence as “an act or omission respecting legal duty of an aggravated character as distinguished from a mere failure to exercise ordinary care. It is very great negligence, or the absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care.”
In essence, gross negligence is behavior that falls just below an intentional act to hurt someone. This is an important distinction for plaintiffs, who don’t need to prove the intent of the defendant. Instead, they need only show that the defendant’s behavior reflected an indifference toward the potential risks posed to others.
A plaintiff in a gross negligence case can seek compensation for damages related to the injury, such as medical bills and consideration for pain. The prevailing plaintiff can also ask the court to grant punitive damages. Punitive damages may be granted in cases where the court determines that the defendant’s actions were so wrongful that the defendant should be required to pay what is effectively a punishment. Punitive damages are intended to send a signal to the rest of the world, to deter the behavior that led to the plaintiff’s injury. Note that statutes sometimes limit the availability of punitive damages, or limit how large a punitive damages award can be.
For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases. If you have been injured by someone’s gross negligence, please reach out to us today for a free attorney consultation. Call us at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.