The terms negligent or negligence are used a lot in the legal world.
Even most people outside of the legal industry are at least somewhat aware of what these words mean.
In this blog and many other legal blogs, people who have been injured in accidents are told to speak to lawyers if the negligence of others caused their injuries.
TV shows, movies, radio, and internet news sites are littered with news reports about incidents of negligence that have led to injuries.
But what is negligence? Is there a difference between something being deemed negligent and something being considered criminal?
In the legal world, there is negligence, or civil negligence, and criminal negligence.
The article below will define criminal negligence, civil negligence and the differences between the two.
What Is Civil Negligence?
The legal definition of negligence is "failure to use reasonable care, that a reasonable person would, resulting in damage or injury to another."
Negligence is an integral part of personal injury cases because injuries are often the result of someone else's negligence.
Negligence can occur in car accident cases, slip and falls, workplace accidents, and more.
Negligence cases have four basic elements that are used to prove whether or not a person acted negligently.
Those elements are:
- Duty - The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances
- Breach - The defendant breached that legal duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way
- Causation - It was the defendant's actions, or inaction, that caused the plaintiff's injury
- Damages - The plaintiff was harmed or injured as a result of the defendant's actions.
You have to prove each of these elements before your case can be settled.
It is your attorney's responsibility to prove that the defendant was at fault before you will be able to receive any compensation for your damages.
Proving negligence often requires extensive fact-gathering and collecting evidence regarding every moment that led to your accident and the moments following your accident.
Examples of Civil Negligence
There are plenty of examples of negligence that can lead to someone filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit.
Some prime examples are:
- A doctor operating on the wrong patient or the wrong body part because they misread the chart.
- A driver running a stop sign and driving well over the legal speed limit.
- A restaurant owner who mops the slippery floor and doesn't put up a "Wet Floor" sign.
- A company releasing a hazardous drug without thoroughly testing the medication and identifying side effects.
- A property owner that let the steps to their house decay, or never fixes a broken handrail could be negligent if they invite friends over to their house and their friends hurt themselves on the railing or steps.
- A store owner knowing that things get out-of-hand on Black Friday but still hosts a big sales event, encouraging a mob scene with no security.
- A person with a known dangerous dog that he takes to the park where the dog bites a small child.
What Is Criminal Negligence?
Criminal negligence is conduct where a person ignores an obvious risk or disregards the life and safety of those around him.
Both federal and state courts describe this behavior as a form of recklessness.
The negligent person acts significantly different than most people would under similar circumstances.
An unfortunate example of this is a parent or guardian leaving a loaded firearm where a small child can get it.
Certain crimes base culpability on a criminally negligent standard.
An example of this is involuntary manslaughter.
To be convicted of this crime, and held criminally negligent, the prosecutor will have to prove that the defendant killed someone unintentionally but acted with unlawful negligence when they did it.
Examples of Criminal Negligence
A few examples of a person acting with criminal negligence are:
- Firing a weapon in the air during a celebration at a public space park
- Leaving your child in your car unattended in hot weather.
- Swiping at someone’s hand while they are holding a loaded gun
- Texting and speeding while driving.
We mentioned this above, but a textbook example of criminal negligence is involuntary manslaughter.
A person has committed involuntary manslaughter if:
- They kill someone unintentionally
- They do so via criminal negligence or in the commission of a crime that's not a felony.
What About Criminal Neglect?
A term that is often confused with negligence is neglect.
These two terms are related, but they describe two different kinds of actions.
Both civil and criminal negligence describe failures to exercise reasonable levels of care in certain circumstances, but neglect describes a type of abuse where a person fails to care for someone who cannot care for themselves.
This often occurs in familiar or other caretaking settings.
Neglect can often rise above the level of criminal behavior, but criminal neglect is different from criminal negligence.
Examining the Differences in Negligence and Criminal Negligence
Criminal negligence and civil negligence definitions share much of the same terminology, like the "standard of care," and "a reasonable person."
Still, there are some clear differences.
Criminal negligence requires someone to fail to know of a substantial and unjustifiable risk to be convicted.
That same requirement doesn't exist for civil negligence.
Also, criminal negligence requires a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care.
Civil negligence can be found if there is any deviation from a reasonable standard of care.
This makes it much harder to meet the criminal definition of negligence than to meet the civil definition.
Intent in Criminal Law
To find someone guilty of a crime, it has to be proven that the person committed a criminal act and had the appropriate means rea.
Mens rea translates to guilty mind, but it has come to mean criminal intent in criminal law.
Most statutes that criminalize behavior will also specify a level of intent required for conviction, but all will.
There are many levels of criminal intent, including intentional behavior, criminal negligent behavior, and reckless behavior.
Needing intent is vital for many societal and policy reasons.
Criminal convictions can result in incarceration, fines, and probation, so there's a belief that a person's conduct should be intentional, grossly negligent, or grossly negligent to be convicted.
When Does Negligence Comes into Play?
Only the government can bring a case when it comes to criminal negligence.
That means the appropriate prosecutorial body will examine facts and have the responsibility to decide if a criminal charge should be filed.
If it is decided that a criminal charge should be filed, the elements of the criminal case have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Civil negligence is used to determine liability in car accidents and many other types of civil actions.
Civil negligence is used to determine liability in:
- motor vehicle accidents
- semi-truck crashes
- medical malpractice
- slip and fall accidents
- nursing home liability
- premises liability
Any case in which one person sues another person for negligently causing injury to the victim falls under the civil negligence umbrella.
As a plaintiff, to win a civil negligence case, you only need evidence to back up your claim.
Contact An Experienced Attorney
If you are unable to prove negligence, whether it is civil or criminal negligence, in your personal injury case, there's no way for you to recover monetary damages.
That means you will be responsible for paying your medical expenses and any other damages incurred in the accident without any financial assistance.
Negligence is a tricky term because it depends on things like “a gross deviation from a standard of care” and deciding what a reasonable person would do.
Depending on your case, there isn't always an easy way to identify the parameters around a reasonable standard of care.
This is why criminal and civil negligence cases are often complicated, expensive, and unpredictable.
That's why if you've been injured in an accident, you need to enlist the help of a law firm.
As the victim of someone else's negligence, it is the job of your attorney to prove that the defendant was negligent.
This can often be done before going to trial, but some civil cases do make it to court because it isn't clear if the defendant is negligent or not.
An experienced personal injury attorney will not be afraid of taking a personal injury case to court to win compensation for their client.