Legal Dictionary

gross negligence

Legal Definition of gross negligence


  1. Any action or an omission in reckless disregard of the consequences to the safety or property of another. Sometimes referred to as "very great negligence" and it is more then just neglect of ordinary care towards others or just inadvertence.

See also

Definition of gross negligence


gross negligence (uncountable)

  1. (law) Negligence evincing a total or near total disregard for the rights and welfare of others and for the consequences of an act.

See also

  • ordinary negligence
  • slight negligence

Further reading

Gross negligence is a legal concept which means serious carelessness. Negligence is the opposite of diligence, or being careful. The standard of ordinary negligence is what conduct one expects from the proverbial "reasonable man". 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".

Criminal law

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

  • R v. Adomako [1995] 1 AC 171

Civil law

The concept of gross negligence is used widely in civil law jurisdictions, but not in the common law world.

  • Wilson v Brett (1843) 11 M&W 113, 115, Baron Rolfe (later Lord Cranworth said he "could see no difference between negligence and gross negligence; that is was the same thing, with the addition of a vituperative epithet."
  • Giblin v McMullen (1868) LR 2 PC 317, 336, Lord Chelmsford approves.
  • Houghland v RR Low (Luxury Coaches) Ltd [1962] 1 QB 694, where Ormerod LJ said "I have always found some difficulty in understanding just what was 'gross negligence,' because it appears to me that the standard of care required in a case of bailment, or any other type of case, is the standard demanded by the circumstances of that particular case."
  • Armitage v Nurse, per Millet LJ, in a trust law case,

    "It would be very surprising if our law drew the line between liability for ordinary negligence and liability for gross negligence. In this respect English law differs from civil law systems, for it has always drawn a sharp distinction between negligence, however gross, on the one hand and fraud, bad faith and wilful misconduct on the other. The doctrine of the common law is that: "Gross negligence may be evidence of mala fides, but is not the same thing:" see Goodman v. Harvey (1836) 4 A. & E. 870, 876, per Lord Denman C.J. But while we regard the difference between fraud on the one hand and mere negligence, however gross, on the other as a difference in kind, we regard the difference between negligence and gross negligence as merely one of degree. English lawyers have always had a healthy disrespect for the latter distinction. In Hinton v. Dibbin (1842) 2 Q.B. 646 Lord Denman C.J. doubted whether any intelligible distinction exists; while in Grill v. General Iron Screw Collier Co. (1866) L.R. 1 C.P. 600, 612 Willes J. famously observed that gross negligence is ordinary negligence with a vituperative epithet. But civilian systems draw the line in a different place. The doctrine is culpa lata dolo aequiparatur; and although the maxim itself is not Roman the principle is classical. There is no room for the maxim in the common law; it is not mentioned in Broom's Legal Maxims, 10th ed. (1939).

Corporate law

  • Smith v. Van Gorkom

Roman law

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

See also


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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