What is Gross Negligence? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Running an Errand Turns Deadly
  • 0:59 What Is Negligence?
  • 2:29 What Is Gross Negligence?
  • 4:24 Negligence or Gross…
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

In this lesson, we'll define gross negligence and distinguish it from simple negligence. We'll learn who determines whether an act is negligent or grossly negligent, and we'll look at a few examples to add clarity.

Running an Errand Turns Deadly

Amy is a stay-at-home mom. She has a son who just entered the first grade and a daughter who is two. Early on a Monday afternoon, Amy realizes that she forgot to buy milk at the grocery store. Amy's son is at school, and her daughter is fast asleep for her afternoon nap. Amy decides to make a quick run to the store for milk before her daughter wakes up. She secures the front door, and heads to the store.

When Amy returns about 20 minutes later, she puts the milk in the fridge and goes to check on her daughter. To her surprise her daughter is not in her bed where she left her. After checking the entire house, Amy notices that the sliding glass door is open. She runs out to the back yard to find her daughter floating face down in the swimming pool. Despite their best efforts, paramedics are unable to revive the toddler and Amy is arrested. She is charged with a number of offenses, one of which is gross negligence.

What Is Negligence?

Simply stated, negligence generally results from carelessness. Negligence takes place when an individual or entity fails to follow proper standards, laws, or procedures, and that failure results in some type of harmful outcome. Someone who is negligent usually doesn't intend to cause harm to the other party or entity who suffers. Negligence is usually just careless or risk-taking action without intent. Let's look at another example of a case where negligence would be a factor.

Nursing Home Care

After John started using a wheelchair following a long illness, his family decided that it would be best if he were to be placed in a nursing home. They found what seemed to be a reputable facility that was equipped to handle individuals like John with very limited mobility. John's family visited often, and noticed that John seemed to have developed a red rash that appeared to be spreading all over his body. When they inquired about the nature of the rash, the staff didn't seem to be concerned and assured the family they will provide treatment.

The rash, however, only seems to grow worse. One day when John's daughter visits with a friend who is a nursing student, she asks her friend to look at the rash. Immediately she tells John's daughter that this is not a rash. Instead it's the result of being bitten by bed bugs. John's family furiously confronts the medical team and shortly after taking John out of the nursing home facility, they file a lawsuit accusing the staff of negligence. They claim that medical professionals in nursing homes should be trained to detect bed bug bites.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence differs from negligence in that it is a significantly more serious form of neglect and typically involves intentional action that is criminal in nature. Individuals or entities that are grossly negligent do more than not follow laws, instructions, or procedures. They actually intentionally circumvent expected protocol for any number of reasons, such as wanting to save time or money. Those who commit gross negligence do so with full knowledge that their willful negligence might cause serious damage, injury, or even death to others. Amy's actions at the beginning of this lesson constitute gross negligence. Amy should have known that leaving a two-year-old child alone in a home with a swimming pool could cause serious harm, or in Amy's case, death. When gross negligence is established, criminal charges usually follow. Let's look at another example of an act that would constitute gross negligence.

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