If a person is injured or has incurred damages as a result of another’s actions, they may consider filing a lawsuit against the other person for negligence. However, depending on the actions that led to injury, the type of negligence claim can vary.
There are four primary types of negligence that are typically seen in lawsuits: gross, contributory, comparative and vicarious. Learn what each of these categories of negligence means and how they’re different, as well as what negligence actually means, legally speaking.
What Is Negligence in a Legal Sense?
Negligence occurs when a person’s actions result in harm to another individual or their property. However, in negligence cases, one person doesn’t necessarily harm another with intent — instead, harm is done when a duty of care is breached or responsibilities aren’t taken seriously.
To prove negligence in a lawsuit, the victim is required to prove that they were owed a duty of care by the defendant and that the duty of care was breached. Additionally, they need to provide evidence that they suffered an injury or incurred damages, and that the injury or damages were a direct result of the defendant’s lack of care, or negligence.
Gross negligence is characterized by an extreme breach of duty of care. Legally, it’s the worst type of negligence charge a person can face. That’s because gross negligence causes more harm than other types of negligence.
In a gross negligence case, the defendant is accused of conducting themselves with thoughtless disregard and failing to use any level of care to avoid harming a person or property. While gross negligence doesn’t indicate intent to cause harm, it does indicate willful recklessness and behavior that a reasonable person wouldn’t engage in.
Because gross negligence results in severe property damage or bodily harm in nearly every case, the damages owed by the accused when found guilty are generally higher than in other types of negligence cases and may include special damages to cover the plaintiff’s incurred costs, general damages to reimburse the plaintiff for pain and suffering, and punitive damages, which act as a deterrent from acting recklessly in the future.
Examples of gross negligence include:
- Texting or talking on the phone while driving and causing a motor vehicle accident.
- A nurse or physician failing to note a patient’s chart accurately or failing to read a chart, resulting in improper care and severe harm.
- A construction company fails to mark or block-off hazards and a passerby is seriously injured.
In a contributory negligence claim, a defendant is accused of taking unreasonable actions that contributed to the injury of another or damage to another’s property. In these cases, the defendant isn’t 100% at fault; however, their actions or interference in a particular situation have in some way contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries or damage to their property.
Examples of contributory negligence include:
- Jaywalking leading to injury or property damage.
- Encouraging a dog to bite or attack.
- Using a product in a way that’s not recommended by the manufacturer and causing harm.
Comparative negligence is a tort rule that applies when two parties are both considered at fault for an accident. In a comparative negligence case, the fault is typically determined by a jury, allocating a percentage of fault to each party. For example, fault may be split 40/60 between the plaintiff and defendant, meaning that the plaintiff would pay 40% of the defendant’s damages and the defendant would pay 60% of the plaintiff’s.
Examples of comparative negligence include:
- A driver makes an illegal U-turn and is struck by another driver who has run a red light.
- A driver backs out of a parking space and is hit by a driver who is speeding in a parking lot.
- A pedestrian crosses a road while the “Don’t Walk” signal is displayed, and a distracted driver strikes them in the crosswalk.
Vicarious liability holds a supervisory party responsible for the actions of another. This type of negligence case can be common in employment situations where an employer is held responsible for the negligent actions of an employee. It also applies in conspiracy cases where a member of a conspiracy is deemed liable for the actions of their co-conspirators.
Examples of vicarious negligence include:
- A party host is held responsible for allowing an intoxicated guest to drive home, causing an accident that harms another person or their property.
- An engineer struggles to maintain control of a train, and the overseeing operator is held liable for damages.
- A construction worker fails to safely operate equipment and causes severe property damage, leaving their employer liable for the damages.
- A minor commits a crime, such as shoplifting or harassment, and their parent is deemed vicariously liable for the resulting damages.