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Differences Between Negligence, Gross Negligence & Contributory Negligence

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An Overview Of Different Types Of Negligence

If you are contemplating filing a personal injury lawsuit, you’re probably hearing the word negligence a lot and maybe even gross negligence or contributory negligence. These can be confusing to many people who aren’t familiar, so let’s take a look at how they differ. Negligence itself is the failure to take proper care in doing something, so in the situation of a car accident, this could be something such as not checking your mirrors before changing lanes which ends up causing an accident. By not checking your mirrors, you acted negligently and may be held accountable for your actions if the other party can prove it.
negligent driver hits another vehicle and doesnt think he is at fault

Gross negligence is more aggravated.  In Colorado it is defined as the intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another person or party.  As citizens, we have a duty to follow the laws and regulations our governments impose on us, and complete lack of consideration for these laws that results in the injury of another person would be considered gross negligence in the eyes of the law. For example, intentionally driving through a red light at an intersection and causing an accident would be gross negligence since you willfully disregarded the traffic laws which resulted in the injury of another person.

The law recognizes that not every situation is completely cut and dry.  For instance, oftentimes two or more people or parties act in a way that contributes to an accident or injury.  That’s where contributory negligence comes in.  Sometimes even the injured party is partially at fault.  Contributory negligence is a legal means of assigning a degree of fault to different parties that contributed to an accident.  This could be a situation where a driver is merging into another lane and gets hit by a car that was already in that lane. If the driver already in that lane was driving way over the speed limit, or was not paying attention, there is room to call for contributory negligence on their part. Also, if the person merging didn’t use their blinker to signal they were changing lanes, this could also be considered contributory negligence.

These situations have to be dealt with very carefully and negligence needs to be able to be proven in court for it to have an effect on the case, so it is important to understand the differences between ordinary negligence, gross negligence and contributory negligence. If you have any questions after reading this article or are wondering about your case, feel free to contact our Colorado personal injury attorneys for a free consultation and case evaluation.

What Is Negligence aka Ordinary Negligence?

Negligence is essentially carelessness to your duty as a citizen to act within the limits of the law or reasonable manner with regards to others safety. Negligence is not commonly used in regards to a willful act, but more of a lack of awareness. Most laws are put in place to help keep citizens safe and act as a guide on how everyone can act around other people in a safe manner, so it is your duty as a citizen to know and understand these laws so that you don’t cause accidents and in turn injuries to other people around you. We have all acted negligently at some point or another in our lives, but when our negligent actions cause injury to another person, the person acting negligently may be held responsible for paying for the injuries and damages done to the other party. If the other party has the burden of proof and is able to prove you acted negligently when it goes to court, you may have a large bill to cover due to your lack of care during the time of the incident. Let’s take an in depth look into it all.

Definition of Negligence

“The failure to take proper care in doing something.”

In regards to the law, negligence is “the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.” There are four elements to a case of negligence. The existence of a duty of care, the breach of that duty of care, a showing that the breach of that duty was the proximate cause of an injury, and damages that resulted from the breach of that duty. All four elements must be proven to establish negligence under the law.

Examples Of Negligence

Negligence can take many forms and happen in all different areas of life, so let’s talk about some common and obvious examples of negligence.

  • Crossing the street as a pedestrian when the no walk sign is illuminated which causes an accident.
  • A store owner not replacing old rotten wood on a deck and allowing customers to gather on it and the decking breaking allowing customers to fall through and injure themselves.
  • A driver turning right at a red light and colliding with another car that had the right of way.
  • A restaurant owner not clearly marking hazardous areas, such as wet floors or broken glass shards.
  • A driver rear-ending another car because they were looking at the radio or dashboard instead of the road.
The commonalities with all of these incidents is that the negligent person had a duty of care to prevent harm to those around them, and breached that duty of care, thereby causing an accident. Accidents lead to injuries and some of those injuries can be lifelong or even fatal, so it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings and always act within the limits or risk being slapped with a personal injury lawsuit.

How To Prove Negligence

Proving negligence can sometimes be very tricky to do and in some cases it can be very easy but there are four main elements that need to be shown to get a valid injury claim.These are:

  • Duty: There must be a commonly known duty to act responsibly in order to prevent other parties from harm in those specific circumstances.
  • Breach: The duty of the defendant to act reasonably was breached by their actions.
  • Causation: The actions taken(sometimes inaction) by the defendant had a direct affect on the injuries that were caused to the other party.
  • Damages: Harm was done to the affected party as a result of the breach of duty to act with care.
When these four things can be proven, you may have a valid claim for negligence, but there are still other factors that need to be considered. In cases where there is an obvious law that was broken or disregarded, negligence can easily be proven by showing how the events would not have happened had the negligent party acted responsibly and with reasonable care.

In situations where the actions of the person can not be proved easily, lawyers will typically try to recreate the situation and determine if the accident could have been avoided by using reasonable judgement of the situation. If they cannot prove there were negligent actions that took place, then these claims may be thrown out. A great personal injury lawyer will be able to tell from the start if negligence played a role in the accident or not. There are other forms of negligence that can have an effect on your case as well so let’s look at some of the other common types of negligence.

What Is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence is very similar to regular negligence, except it’s a more extreme form of it. Gross implies that the actions taken were willfully done or done with extreme disregard for others safety or well being. When a person acts recklessly and intentionally puts other people in harm’s way, this would commonly be considered gross negligence as the person consciously made the decision to act in a manner that endangers others. Gross negligence is not taken lightly in court and many times can turn a normal injury lawsuit into one with punitive damages added to it, meaning the at fault party pays greater amounts for damages and injuries to the plaintiff than had they not willingly put the other parties health and safety at risk.

Definition of Gross Negligence

“A lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, and can affect the amount of damages.”

“A conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of a legal duty and of the consequences to another party.”

Examples Of Gross Negligence

While there are many different situations that could deem a person’s actions as gross negligence, it needs to show willful disregard for others safety to be able to claim gross negligence and possibly claim punitive damages. Here are some examples:

  • Failing to provide a person under your care with water or food for multiple days in a row.
  • A driver purposely hitting another car or pedestrian out of anger.
  • A person throwing projectiles into a crowd.
The thing about gross negligence is that there was a willful disregard for others safety and because of this, when being sued for damages, the plaintiff may be able to get punitive damages for said reckless actions, leaving you with a substantially higher bill to pay.

How To Prove Gross Negligence

Proving gross negligence can be hard when there isn’t much evidence to support the claim. However, in some situations, recreating the incident and evaluating how things happened may give either party some data on what was possible and make conclusions based off of that data. And as always, you’ll need to show these four factors to prove negligence: duty, breach, causation and damages. Let’s shed some light on a situation involving gross negligence.

If a driver rear ended someone because they were texting and there were no skid marks, brakes engaged or attempts to avoid the collision, it could be determined to be ordinary negligence. However if there were no skidmarks and the crash was so severe that it could have only happened if the driver was travelling at speeds that were excessively above the speed limit, then this could be considered gross negligence. It’s a grey area that needs to be proven definitively in court and can sometimes drag cases out longer as plaintiffs attempt to prove gross negligence so they can recover punitive damages.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is typically claimed by the defendant in an injury case, as a means to divert blame from their negligence onto the fact that the plaintiff also acted negligently which played a role in the incident taking place. By proving that the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the incident, the defendant may be able to get out of paying any damages at all or a reduced amount of the bill since the other party was also partly at fault.

This could be a situation where a person turned right on red in front of another person negligently, but the other person was travelling too fast according to the speed limit. The person who was driving too fast played a contributing role in the accident even though it wouldn’t have happened had the other party not pulled out in front of them. This situation shows that both parties acted in a manner that played a major role in the accident happening.

Definition of Contributory Negligence

“Failure of an injured plaintiff to act prudently, considered to be a contributory factor in the injury suffered, and sometimes reducing the amount recovered from the defendant.”

“behaviour that contributes to one’s own injury or loss and fails to meet the standard of prudence that one should observe for one’s own good. Contributory negligence of the plaintiff is frequently pleaded in defense to a charge of negligence.”

Examples Of Contributory Negligence

Most plaintiffs are just trying to get a settlement to cover the damages and injuries they suffered from the other person’s negligence, but many times the plaintiff is blindsided when the other side claims they also played a part in causing the accident to happen. It is actually quite common but many don’t understand it completely, so here are a few examples to clear up any misconceptions.

  • A store owner clearly marks a dangerous area for customers to avoid and the customer ignores the signs and injures themselves. They sue the shop owner but find out their actions of ignoring the clearly marked dangerous areas contributed to the accident and in this case would most likely completely remove the shop owner from paying any damages since the areas were clearly marked.
  • A company makes a product that is dangerous if it touches the skin and has warning labels about it’s dangers. A user drops the bottle and it splashes on them, causing injuries and sues the company that made the product. The fact that the bottles had warning labels and the incident would not have happened if the user had not dropped the bottle, the company who makes the product would not be at fault as the suing party had contributory negligence. If the bottle did not have warning labels then the company will most likely be held partially responsible.
  • A driver merges into another lane at a speed much slower than the speed of traffic. The driver approaching in that lane is driving 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. The two vehicles collide and drivers are injured. The person who did not merge tries to sue and is notified of claims that they had contributory negligence. Even though it was negligent of the person merging to merge at a dangerously slow speed compared to the approaching traffic, the person driving at speeds well over the speed limit is still partially responsible for the accident because they could have avoided the accident if they were travelling at normal posted speeds.

How To Prove Contributory Negligence

If you are going to claim contributory negligence in your personal injury lawsuit, you’ll need to be able to prove those claims which can be difficult in some situations. If there is a clear wrongdoing or breaking of the law by the plaintiff which contributed to the accident it may be easy to prove in court.

However, many times there is not enough satisfactory evidence to prove that the contributing party actually acted negligently. Each case is different in their own way and if evidence to back up the claims isn’t available you may have a hard time getting a judge to acknowledge the claims. At any rate, you’ll need to be able to prove the four main elements of negligence still, which are duty, breach of duty, causation and damages.

What To Do If You've Been Injured Due To Someone’s Negligent Actions

If you have been injured due to someone else’s negligent actions, it is extremely important you speak to an experienced personal injury law firm right away so you can get the case settled as soon as possible and ensure you aren’t doing anything that could hurt your chances of a fair settlement. There are many moving pieces to personal injury lawsuits that need to be handled by lawyers who are familiar with the ins and outs of the specific type of accident you were in. Having knowledge of how insurance companies handle things is very helpful as well because most injury cases are going to involve some sort of insurance.

Get Help From An Experienced Injury Attorney

At Rector Stuzynski LLC, our Colorado personal injury lawyers have tons of experience with injury lawsuits of all types and have in-depth knowledge of how insurance companies work so we can get you the best possible settlement for your injuries. We treat every case as if it was our own family that was injured because we believe everyone has the right to a fair and expert defense. If you’ve been injured due to another person or company’s negligence, call us today for a free consultation and evaluation of your case. We are available 24/7 over the phone or feel free to stop by our office in Colorado Springs, CO.

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We serve clients injured anywhere throughout the state of Colorado, but we focus on residents of these areas: Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Fountain, Briargate, Monument, Black Forest, Pueblo, Canon City, Larkspur, Security-Widefield, Peyton, Castle Rock, Teller County, El Paso County, Elbert County, Park County, Douglas County and beyond.