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What Is Negligence In Simple Terms?

What Does Negligence Mean?

Most people generally understand what negligence means. However, there is a bit of nuance around how it is used in the legal world. To help you avoid making incorrect assumptions around what it is and how it is applied, I’ve written this article for you!

What is negligence in simple terms? Negligence is essentially the failure to act carefully. People are required to act with reasonable care in their daily lives. They must not cause harm or injury to others through their actions or inaction. When a person fails to do so and causes damage as a result, they are considered negligent.

For example, a driver is negligent when they drive through a red light and crashes into another car, injuring its occupants. Also, a company that knowingly sells contaminated food products is negligent because it fails to keep people safe by selling a safe product.

In a courtroom, negligence can be difficult to prove. For a person to be found negligent, they must have been proven to have caused harm by neglecting a duty of care that is usually associated with their job or position in society.

Let’s explore in greater detail everything there is to know about negligence so you can not only avoid it yourself but also be able to spot it.

Types Of Negligence

Again, you probably knew what negligence meant, but did you know there are different types? There are three kinds of negligence that are generally referenced.

  1. Simple
  2. Ordinary
  3. Gross

The main difference between them is the amount the defendant’s actions reflect neglecting their duty of care. These types can be infinitely split up but they are the most common.

Simple Negligence

Let’s go over the first and least serious type, simple negligence. If a defendant is found to be negligent in this way, the actions that they took only caused a small amount of neglect. Here are two examples of this.

  • A carpenter accidentally leaves wood planks sitting out on site. A visitor to his job site trips over them as a result. Even though the carpenter didn’t intend for this to happen, he was negligent simply by leaving something that could be dangerous in an area where it was accessible by others and could cause harm if they weren’t careful.
  • A child leaves their bike out in the neighbor’s driveway. The neighbor pulls out and runs over the bike, causing damage to the bike and their car. In this case, both the child and adult were being negligent. But of course, in this case, the greater responsibility falls on the adult to be aware of their surroundings and actions.

Ordinary Negligence

This type of negligence is slightly more serious than simple neglect. The defendant’s actions still fail to meet the reasonable standard of care, but they are not as bad as gross negligence. Here are two examples of this:

  • If a car mechanic fails to ensure that a brake light was fixed before sending the car back to customers, he is committing ordinary negligence. This could cause a car accident and he could be held responsible if the customer was under the assumption it has been fixed.
  • A company that fails to ensure that its employees are properly trained causes an accident due to this lack of training. This is also ordinary negligence because even though the employees had not been trained, this is still something that should be checked as a normal part of the hiring process.

Gross Negligence

The last and most serious type of negligence is gross negligence. The defendant’s actions show no regard for others and their duty of care and they’d place them in immediate danger by taking the actions that they did.

It is a very high standard of care and it is generally associated with lawsuits for medical malpractice or similar cases. Here are some examples:

  • A driver that gets into a car accident because they were texting and driving is guilty of gross negligence. This action shows a complete disregard for others and their safety and it jeopardizes them directly by causing an accident.
  • A surgeon goes into an operation under the influence of alcohol. This is gross negligence because it directly jeopardizes the patient’s health and safety by impairing their judgment.

Negligence Laws

The laws involving negligence vary depending on the location, but there are some similarities between them all. In all cases, there is a requirement that the victim must be able to prove that they were injured and that this injury was directly caused by the defendant’s actions.

The defendant and victim must also reside in the same state for those laws to apply, as this is determined by where the incident occurred.

The last thing that is required for negligence law to apply is that the defendant’s action or inaction must be considered negligent by a judge or jury. Even if their actions caused harm, it does not necessarily mean they were negligent.

Finally, to seek damages in a negligence lawsuit, the victim must not have contributed to their injuries. This means that if they would have been injured regardless of whatever the defendant did or didn’t do, they cannot collect damages for it.

What Isn’t Negligence?

You can see now that there’s a lot to negligence, but what about when someone isn’t negligent at all? It turns out there are four types of behaviors people may engage in that aren’t classified as negligence. These include:

An Accident

Accidents happen and the victim cannot seek damages because they occurred due to no one’s negligence.


If a person is defending themselves from physical harm, then their actions aren’t classified as negligent and this isn’t considered an accident.

Natural Disasters

Disasters that occur naturally or as a result of the forces of nature are not considered negligence.


If someone has no one else to care for them and they put themselves in danger, their actions aren’t classified as negligence because there’s no duty to care for oneself.

How To Avoid Being Negligent

No one wants to find themselves in a courtroom, especially because you inadvertently caused harm to another person. So of course, we want to avoid being negligent at all costs. Of course many times, this just means using common sense but here are some other things to keep in mind.

  1. Make sure you are fully trained when starting a new job, especially if you will be operating machinery or vehicles.
  2. Take basic precautions around anything that can cause harm. Even if it’s just being careful not to knock over a lamp at someone’s house when you visit.
  3. Make sure to always practice good judgment and responsibility when drinking alcohol.
  4. Be fully present in all of your activities so that you can spot potentially dangerous situations before they occur.
  5. Always know the rules or expectations of a new place you’re visiting.

What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Negligence?

If you find yourself the victim of someone’s negligence, there are some steps you can choose to take. These include:

  • Document everything that happened and any evidence that exists.
  • Seek medical attention if needed for your injuries.
  • File a police report if this was an incident where you were physically harmed or anything was stolen from you.
  • Contact an attorney to discuss your options, especially if you have been seriously injured.
  • If possible, gather any video or audio proof of the incident including any witnesses.
  • Take care of yourself and watch for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

And as always, remember that this article is purely for informational purposes and not legal advice. Always seek an attorney for any legal questions.

Should You Report Negligence?

Perhaps you haven’t personally been involved in a negligent act but what if you witness one? There may also be times when you know something is happening that can cause harm, but it isn’t happening to anyone in particular.

If someone is breaking the law and endangering others, then always report it. However, if the person’s actions aren’t against any laws, then there are some questions you should consider before reporting them.

  • Do you know the full story of the events?
  • Is the person/company acting in a way I disagree with but isn’t irresponsible?
  • Is anyone actually in danger or will be because of these actions?
  • If a lawsuit occurred, would you be able to financially support yourself throughout the process?
  • Can you find any circumstances for what happened, such as a medical condition or substance abuse that contributed to the unsafe behavior?

Not everything is considered negligent so if you are unsure, see a lawyer or find someone who can give you a proper judgment on the situation.

Do Negligent Cases Lead To Jail Time?

Negligent cases don’t usually lead to jail time and people aren’t automatically found guilty. The main focus in a negligence case is what was the negligent behavior and how did it result in harm.

However, if someone has been held liable for taking part in negligent behavior that results in serious bodily injury or death, they can be charged with manslaughter.

More often than not, people accused of negligence are agreeing to pay some sort of restitution for what happened. The difference between criminal charges and civil charges is that civil charges don’t usually ask the defendant to go to jail for their actions while criminal charges do carry jail time or other punishments.


Negligence means failing to act the way a reasonable person would. It can include things like not obeying laws, not using common sense, or not taking responsibility for your actions.

It’s your responsibility to take precautions around anything that could lead to harm. You also must use common sense and show good judgment in all of your activities.

If you witness negligence but haven’t been directly affected by someone’s actions, it may be worth consulting a lawyer or legal expert before reporting the incident.

If you are involved in an accident or situation where negligence took place, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself. These include documenting everything that happened, seeking medical attention when necessary, filing a police report if appropriate, and consulting an attorney.

Thanks for reading this article!

Written By

Matt has over 10 years of legal writing experience. He's worked and written for legal websites for serval websites including Truskett Law, Bruner Law, Jeffrey & Erwin, Gary Crews, PLLC., Deposition Academy, and Wagner & Lynch.


Legal Blaze is your source for legal related information that is free and clear. Our content is independently curated with an unbiased approach. Our team consists of legal website writers, lawyers, and legal marketing experts. We explain the process in an informational format. Our content is reviewed for factual accuracy.

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