Gross negligence

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Gross negligence is the "lack of slight diligence or care" or "a conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of a legal duty and of the consequences to another party, who may typically recover exemplary damages."[1] Negligence is the opposite of diligence, or being careful. The standard of ordinary negligence is what conduct deviates from the proverbial "reasonable person." By analogy, if somebody has been grossly negligent, that means they have fallen so far below the ordinary standard of care that one can expect, to warrant the label of being "gross." Prosser and Keeton describe gross negligence as being "the want of even slight or scant care", and note it as having been described as a lack of care that even a careless person would use. They further note that while some jurisdictions equate the culpability of gross negligence with that of recklessness, most simply differentiate it from simple negligence in its degree.[2]

Criminal law[edit]

Gross negligence is, controversially, used as a standard for criminal law for example, under manslaughter in English law.

Under common law, criminal negligence is defined as a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care. This is a higher standard than ordinary negligence under tort law.

Private law[edit]

English law[edit]

The concept of gross negligence is broadly distrusted by English law. In Wilson v Brett [3] Baron Rolfe (later Lord Cranworth) said he

This view has been consistently approved in English law relating to fiduciary duties, as the courts have reasserted that there is only one standard of culpable carelessness: ordinary negligence. The preferred view has been that the context of a trustee, company director or other fiduciary's judgment is to be taken into account when the judge reviews the exercise of discretion. In Houghland v RR Low (Luxury Coaches) Ltd[5] Ormerod LJ said,

The leading case is Armitage v Nurse where Millett LJ, was asked to decide whether an exclusion clause was effective to absolve a trustee from an accusation of negligence when applying property to beneficiaries. It was held that exclusion clauses were still effective (though other remedies could follow, such as UCTA 1977 in a contract law case) but on the point of principle, as a default position all trustees are liable for ordinary negligence. Millett LJ said,

US Corporate law[edit]

Roman law[edit]

Roman lawyers had an axiom that gross negligence amounts to an intentional wrong, or culpa lata dolo aequiparatur.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Garner, Bryan (1999). Black's Law Dictionary (7th ed.). St. Paul, Minn: West Group. p. 1057. ISBN 0-314-22864-0. 
  2. ^ W. Page Keeton, ed. (1984). Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts (5th ed.). § 34. 
  3. ^ (1843) 11 M&W 113, 115
  4. ^ Approved by Lord Chelmsford in Giblin v McMullen (1868) LR 2 PC 317, 336
  5. ^ [1962] 1 QB 694