What Is Considered Gross Negligence?
Given its vagueness, defining gross negligence is difficult. California chooses to define it as “want of even scant care or an extreme departure from ordinary standard of conduct” (Kirschenbaum). While negligence refers to falling below the standard of care for a reasonable person, the definition of gross negligence changes with context and jurisdiction, with some defining it as equal or greater than intentional recklessness that results in harm to oneself or others. The reason for the term’s vagueness lies in the difficulty of differentiating between degrees of negligence. Each US jurisdiction recognizes its own measurement of gross negligence that it believes surpasses the lack of care established under negligence.
Determining an occurrence of various types of negligence depends on the context of the act. The law bases its standard on the “reasonable care” by a “reasonable person.” Therefore, what is considered “reasonable” changes based on circumstances. If a trained surgeon leaves a surgical instrument inside of the body, it is assumed that they did not follow the standard of care expected of a reasonable person (a competent and trained professional) in that situation. If a surgeon amputates a patient’s healthy right leg, instead of the left leg in need of amputating, the surgeon has committed an act of negligence by not knowing which leg was healthy or not. In both cases, the surgeons committed an act of negligence, or gross negligence in other jurisdictions, that was below the standard of care expected of them.
For most states that define, and acknowledge, gross negligence it is viewed as intentionally acting in a reckless manner that disregards the most basic standard of care that is adhered to by even a negligent person. The issue, which has been recognized in the aforementioned text, surrounds the relativity of measuring lack of care once it has passed the benchmark of a reasonable standard of care. Therefore, defining the term requires a focused look at a specific jurisdiction with a legally acknowledged measurement of “gross” disregard for care exceeding that of negligence.