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What Is Ordinary Negligence?

Posted on March 14, 2024

In personal injury law, negligence is a critical concept that determines liability for accidents and injuries. However, not all negligence is created equal. According to our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers, there are two main categories: ordinary negligence and gross negligence. 

Ordinary Negligence

Ordinary negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. It occurs when someone’s actions or omissions fall below the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent person in similar circumstances. In other words, it’s the failure to take reasonable precautions to prevent foreseeable harm to others.

Proving Ordinary Negligence

Ordinary negligence typically consists of four key elements that must be proven to establish liability:

Duty of Care

The first element of negligence involves establishing that the defendant (at-fault party) owed a duty of care to the plaintiff (injury victim). This duty is a legal obligation to act reasonably and avoid causing harm to others. The specific duty of care owed by the defendant depends on the circumstances of the case and the relationship between the parties. For example, drivers have a duty to operate their vehicles safely and follow traffic laws to prevent accidents and injuries to others on the road.

Breach of Duty

The second element requires demonstrating that the defendant breached or violated the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. This breach occurs when the defendant’s actions or omissions fall below the standard of care expected of a reasonably prudent person in similar circumstances. For example, a property owner may breach their duty of care by failing to repair a known hazard on their premises, such as a broken staircase, despite being aware of the risk of injury to visitors.


The third element involves establishing a causal connection between the defendant’s breach of duty and the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. This requires demonstrating that the defendant’s negligent actions or omissions directly caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s harm. 


The fourth and final element of negligence requires showing that the plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty and causation. Damages can include physical injuries, emotional distress, property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Without measurable damages, there is no basis for a negligence claim, as the plaintiff must have suffered harm or losses to seek compensation from the defendant.

What Is Gross Negligence?
What is Gross Negligence?

Gross negligence, on the other hand, involves a much higher degree of carelessness or recklessness than ordinary negligence. It occurs when someone’s actions or omissions demonstrate a conscious disregard for the safety and well-being of others. Unlike ordinary negligence, which involves a lack of reasonable care, gross negligence involves an extreme departure from the standard of care expected under the circumstances.

For example, if a doctor performs surgery while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, knowing that it poses a significant risk to the patient’s safety, they may be guilty of gross negligence. Similarly, if a company knowingly ignores safety regulations and exposes workers to hazardous conditions that result in serious injuries or fatalities, it may be considered grossly negligent.

Proving gross negligence typically involves presenting compelling evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, expert opinions, documentation of safety violations, or other forms of evidence that illustrate the egregious nature of the defendant’s conduct.

Key Differences Between Ordinary Negligence and Gross Negligence

Degree of Carelessness

Ordinary negligence involves a failure to exercise reasonable care, whereas gross negligence involves a much higher degree of carelessness or recklessness.

Awareness of Risk

In cases of gross negligence, the responsible party is aware of the risk of harm but consciously disregards it, while in cases of ordinary negligence, the lack of care may be unintentional or inadvertent.

Potential Consequences

While both types of negligence can result in liability for damages, the consequences for gross negligence are typically more severe, as courts may award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages to punish the negligent party.