In a New Jersey personal injury case, the amount and type of damages you may recover depends largely on the level of negligence the defendant showed leading up to the accident. Per the New Jersey Courts, the state generally recognizes five types of negligence in personal injury cases, with gross negligence being among them.
Gross negligence is more severe than ordinary negligence but less severe than willful and wanton misconduct. As the victim of an accident, it is important that you understand what constitutes gross negligence and why the distinction may matter in your case.
The continuum between negligence and misconduct
To help juries reach fair and equitable outcomes in personal injury cases, the New Jersey courts provide them with a “negligence continuum” to which to refer. The continuum begins with the least severe type of conduct, which is ordinary negligence, and ends with intentional misconduct, which can result in both civil and criminal liability. Gross negligence is only the second tier on the continuum, followed by willful and wanton misconduct, reckless misconduct and intentional misconduct.
Defining gross negligence
To help juries further grasp the concept of gross negligence as opposed to ordinary negligence, the New Jersey Courts provide examples. Those are as follows:
- The failure to exercise a slight degree of caution
- The indifference or absence of care toward others
- The lack of even scant amounts of care
- The utter unconcern for the safety of others
- The omission of the slightest care that even a thoughtless or inattentive person would show
- The thoughtless disregard for the probable consequences of an action
In cases involving gross negligence, the consequences of an action were reasonably foreseeable. Furthermore, the defendant’s actions could not have been the result of mistaken judgment, inattention or the failure to recognize ordinary care. Rather, evidence must indicate that the defendant acted without showing the slightest degree of care or diligence to the probable consequences.
Why the distinction matters
There are two main reasons the distinction between gross negligence and other forms of negligence matter. The first is that, if a jury finds a defendant guilty of gross negligence, the law exempts him or her from liability immunity. This may apply in cases in which, say, a government worker causes you harm. In a case of ordinary negligence, the government entity would assume liability. In a case of gross negligence, however, liability falls on the worker him or herself.
The second reason it matters is for compensatory purposes. The law generally does not allow for punitive damages in cases arising out of ordinary or gross negligence. However, if the defendant’s actions fall further along the negligence continuum, you may be able to collect punitive damages. An experienced lawyer can help you better understand the levels of negligence and how each may apply to your case.