What Is Negligence?

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What Is Negligence?

Negligence is a legal concept that refers to the state of mind of a person who causes harm to another. In ordinary conversational parlance, negligence means something like “carelessness.” 

A person whose carelessness causes physical harm to another can bear financial and sometimes criminal liability for that harm. Car accidents, including those resulting in wrongful death, frequently result in negligence claims.

Types of Negligence

Types of Negligence

Minnesota law recognizes four types of negligence: ordinary negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and criminal negligence.  

Ordinary Negligence

Every adult is expected to undertake their daily affairs, such as driving a car, with reasonable care. Some people, such as doctors, must undertake their professional duties with much greater care. Imagine the difference between the duty of care applied to a doctor in an emergency room versus the duty of care applied to a passerby who stumbles upon a traffic accident.

Elements of an Ordinary Negligence Claim

To win a personal injury claim based on ordinary negligence, you must prove the following four legal elements:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim.
  2. The defendant failed to meet their duty of care.
  3. The victim suffered physical harm.
  4. The defendant’s failure to exercise their duty of care caused the harm that the victim suffered.

The first two of these elements, taken together, constitute ordinary negligence. You must also prove elements three and four to prove that the defendant is financially liable for negligence.

Examples of Ordinary Negligence

Examples of ordinary negligence might include:

  • Driving too fast during inclement weather;
  • Failing to erect a “Wet Floor” sign after mopping a restaurant floor; or
  • Failing to warn a patient that a particular medication should not be taken by pregnant women.

Ordinary negligence can result in liability for all of the victim’s compensatory damages. This might include economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages, and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.  

Negligence Per Se

The concept of negligence per se offers a shortcut to proving liability. With ordinary negligence, a jury determines the precise standard of care that applies to a given case. Was the doctor obligated to order a C-section under the particular circumstances of a medical malpractice case? Ultimately, the determination involves a certain amount of subjectivity.

Not so much with negligence per se. Negligence per se arises when the defendant breaks a safety statute or regulation. When this happens, the statute itself sets the standard of care. Running a stop sign, for example, is negligence. The only question to be asked once it is proven that the defendant ran a stop sign is whether it actually caused the victim’s injury.

Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is a more severe form of negligence than ordinary negligence. Minnesota courts require claimants to show that the defendant’s degree of negligence was substantially higher than the degree of negligence required for a finding of ordinary negligence. 

The legal significance of gross negligence is that it is next to impossible to enforce a waiver of liability for a defendant’s gross negligence. Contrast this with ordinary negligence, which can be excused by a valid waiver of liability. The distinction between ordinary negligence and gross negligence does not apply, however, unless statutory or contractual language makes the distinction. Minnesota common law makes no distinction.

Additionally, Minnesota law on punitive damages requires something like gross negligence before a defendant can be held liable. Specifically, the defendant must have acted with “deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.”

Criminal Negligence

Criminal negligence differs from the previous three types of negligence because it is a feature of criminal law, not civil law. Ordinary negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence apply primarily to personal injury claims. A defendant found liable for negligence is likely to suffer an economic penalty, such as an award of damages against them.

A finding of criminal negligence, by contrast, can result in imprisonment for years or even decades. Nevertheless, there is a relationship between criminal negligence and gross negligence. The same act can be characterized as either criminal negligence or gross negligence, depending on whether criminal or civil liability is sought.

As an example, a plaintiff’s lawyer pursuing a wrongful death claim might seek a finding of gross negligence against a driver who caused a fatal accident. A public prosecutor, by contrast, might seek a finding of criminal negligence in a manslaughter prosecution for the same accident. 

A Minneapolis Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Sort It Out

Questions of negligence are rarely straightforward. This is especially true when you need to distinguish different types of degrees of negligence. However, an experienced Minneapolis personal injury lawyer should have years of experience making these distinctions and proving them both in and out of court. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations to prospective clients as well.

Contact or call our law firm Hall Law Personal Injury Attorneys to request a free consultation with an experienced Minneapolis personal injury attorney at (800) 292-1979. We fight to hold negligent parties financially liable for the economic and non-economic damages they cause.

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