Gross Negligence in Auto Accidents

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Gross negligence is a conscious, voluntary, and reckless act or omission which results in grave injury to the person or property of another.  The difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is a matter of degree.  Ordinary negligence is tantamount to inadvertence whereas gross negligence involves a wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of others.

What is Gross Negligence?

The definition of gross negligence may vary slightly from state to state.  Generally, the following acts would rise to the level of gross negligence in most states:

  • A surgeon who operates while drunk;
  • A pilot who flies a plane while suffering from sleep deprivation;
  • An employer who requires employees to work with tools or equipment which he knows are damaged or defective;
  • A scuba company that rents scuba equipment to tourists which it knows is damaged or defective.

Certain criminal conduct may also rise to the level of gross negligence.  For instance, a man who is convicted of vehicular homicide as a result of drunk driving may also be found grossly negligent in a civil lawsuit.

Auto Accidents and Gross Negligence

Most times, an auto accident is just that, an accident.  However, there are times when an auto accident may be the result of gross negligence.  Accidents caused by drunk driving or talking on cell phones and texting while driving may rise to the level of gross negligence. 

Because driving without insurance is a crime in most states, some people believe that it also constitutes gross negligence.  However, in most states, more is required before a finding of gross negligence can be made.  If you are in an accident with someone who doesn't have auto insurance, your uninsured motorist policy will cover all or some of your damages.  Your uninsured motorist policy will also kick in if you are the victim of a hit and run driver.


State law also governs what type of damages a person may recover in an auto accident lawsuit.  In some states, a finding of gross negligence will not warrant the recovery of punitive damages.  Additionally, some states prohibit the award of punitive damages to an uninsured motorist or where contributory negligence is found on the part of the plaintiff.

Help from a Lawyer

If you have been injured in an auto accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible because your state's statute of limitations limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit.  Your attorney will evaluate your case and recommend a course of action to help you get the compensation you deserve.