What is the Difference Between Ordinary Negligence vs. Gross Negligence?

Man holding gross negligence book.

The terms “ordinary negligence” and “gross negligence” frequently appear in discussions of legal matters. Many people do not understand that there is a distinction between the two terms. Negligence is the failure to use the level of care and caution that an ordinary person would use in similar circumstances. It often involves a careless mistake or inattention that causes an injury.

Gross negligence on the other hand is the deliberate and reckless disregard for the safety and reasonable treatment of others. In both cases, the fundamental disregard for responsibility must directly cause harm to another person, another person’s property, or both.

What is ordinary negligence?

If a person fails to take the reasonable precautions that any prudent person would take and their actions cause someone else harm, their actions could be considered negligent. Examples of negligence include:

  • A driver who runs a stop sign causing an injury crash.
  • A store owner who fails to put up a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign after mopping up a spill.
  • A property owner who fails to replace rotten steps on a wooden porch that collapses and injures visiting guests.

In each of these cases, the responsible party didn’t mean to cause others harm, but their careless actions resulted in an accident. Even if they didn’t intend to cause harm, the person responsible for the accident might still be legally responsible for the damage caused.

Through a civil lawsuit, injured parties may recover just compensation for the unexpected medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other costs associated with the accident. The injured party may also be eligible to seek compensation for their pain, suffering, and mental anguish as a result of their injuries.

How do you prove negligence?

If you have been hurt in an accident caused by someone else’s negligent actions, you will have to prove the presence of four main elements, including:

  • Duty – The defendant owed the injured party a legal duty to take reasonable precautions to protect him or her from harm under the circumstances.
  • Breach – That legal duty was breached by the actions of the defendant.
  • Causation – The actions, or in some cases inaction, of the defendant directly caused injury to the plaintiff.
  • Damages – The plaintiff was harmed by the actions of the defendant.

If these four elements are present, the injured party may have a valid personal injury lawsuit and may claim compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property replacement, and other damages.

What exactly is gross negligence?

Gross negligence is the extreme indifference to or reckless disregard for the safety of others. Gross negligence is more than simple carelessness or failure to act. It is willful behavior done with extreme disregard for the health and safety of others. It is conduct likely to cause foreseeable harm.

Examples of gross negligence include:

  • A driver speeding in an area with heavy pedestrian traffic.
  • A doctor prescribing a patient a drug that their medical records clearly list that they are allergic to.
  • Nursing home staff failing to provide water or food to a resident for several days.

Because deliberate actions or extreme carelessness caused the injury or damage to property, the amount of damages awarded to the injured party may be increased and may include punitive damages intended to punish the wrongdoer.

While most car accidents involve ordinary negligence such as careless driving, an injury accident caused by a drunk driver may in some cases be considered an act of gross negligence, depending on the circumstances.

Pursuing a negligence claim

driver suffering from whiplash injurydriver suffering from whiplash injuryIf you’ve been hurt in an accident and you believe that your injuries were caused by the reckless or negligent actions of someone else, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. A personal injury lawyer can review the facts of the accident and explain whether negligence or gross negligence was involved. While it is possible to pursue a civil claim on your own, it is not recommended. By hiring a personal injury attorney who has successfully handled many personal injury claims, you can rest easier knowing that your case is in experienced hands.

At The Sawaya Law Firm, we have decades of experience helping individuals who were injured in Denver and across Colorado. Our injury attorneys will investigate your accident and determine exactly what happened and who was at fault. We may hire accident reconstruction experts to recreate the circumstances leading up to the accident. We will gather evidence to build a persuasive case on your behalf and will handle all of the communication with the other party’s insurance company.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can provide an idea of what your case may be worth based on years of experience handling similar cases. It is important that you act quickly because time is limited to file your personal injury lawsuit. If you do not file an injury claim within the allowed time, the court may refuse to hear it. If you do hire legal counsel, make sure to work with a firm that has earned the trust of clients through honest, straightforward representation.

How The Sawaya Law Firm can help

The Sawaya Law Firm has built a reputation as one of the premier personal injury firms in Colorado through our successful representation of our clients and our commitment to our community. The Denver personal injury lawyers at The Sawaya Law Firm have gained national recognition for their work on behalf of injured victims.

Let our compassionate and skilled attorneys at The Sawaya Law Firm help you overcome this stressful time by getting you the compensation that you deserve. To get started on your case, contact our experienced Denver personal injury attorneys at (720) 709-2802.


Michael established The Sawaya Law Firm in 1977 and built it into one of the largest personal injury law firms in Colorado, with more than 20 lawyers and 80 staff members serving clients from five offices located in Denver, Greeley and Colorado Springs. Throughout its history, the firm has stayed true to its 12 Core Values, which emphasize excellence in advocacy and a commitment to providing outstanding client service. Michael studied sociology and economics as an undergraduate student at The Colorado College, and he earned his law degree from the Texas Tech University School of Law. In addition to being involved in several legal and community organizations, Michael enjoys playing music and cooking, and he has written a book on spiritual matters.