“gross,” “criminal,” or “culpable” negligence – conscious, wanton, reckless disregard for the probability that death or injury could result from one’s actions

     This page is continued from Civil Law Self-Help >>>> Section 1 >>>> Torts >>>> Basic Classifications of Torts >>>> Negligent Tort >>>> Negligence:


criminal negligence:

1. Gross negligence so extreme that it is punishable as a crime.  *  For example, involuntary manslaughter or other negligent homicide can be based on criminal negligence, as when an extremely careless automobile driver kills someone. — aka culpable negligence; gross negligence. [1]

2. The objectively assessed mental state of an actor who should know that there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the social harm that the law is designed to prevent will occur but who nevertheless engages in the prohibited action.  *  Under the Model Penal Code, this mental state represents the minimum level of culpability required for criminal liability except when the offense carries absolute liability.  Cf. CULPABILITY; MENS REA; RECKLESSLY. [1]

1. Negligence which is proscribed by law and for which punishment is provided as constituting a crime. 38 Am J1st Negl § 9.
     See negligent homicide. [2]

1. A degree of negligence that exceeds ordinary negligence and that is punishable as a crime.  The term culpable negligence is also applied to such conduct.
     See manslaughter; negligent homicide. [3]

     Excerpt from Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott Jr.’s Criminal Law (2d ed. 1986):

     “Though the legislatures and the courts have often made it clear that criminal liability generally requires more fault than the ordinary negligence which will do for tort liability, they have not so often made it plain just what is required in addition to tort negligence -greater risk, subjective awareness of the risk, or both. Statutes are sometimes worded in terms of ‘gross negligence’ or ‘culpable negligence’ or ‘criminal negligence,’ without any further definition of these terms. . . . The courts thus have had to do their best with little guidance from the legislature, with varying results. [4]

culpable negligence:

1. Negligent conduct that, while not intentional, involves a disregard of the consequences likely to result from one’s actions. [1]

1. A term sometimes defined in a manner similar to definitions of ordinary negligence, it being said that “culpable negligence” is the omission to do something which a reasonable, prudent and honest man would do, or doing something which such a man would not do under all the circumstances surrounding each particular case. State v Emery, 78 Mo 77; Kent v State, 8 Okla Crim 188, 126 P 1040.

Other authorities consider “culpable negligence” as something beyond ordinary negligence, defining it as the conscious and wanton disregard of the probabilities of fatal consequences to others as the result of the wilful creation of an unreasonable risk thereof; or a wanton disregard of, or indifference to, the safety of human life. Smith v State, 197 Miss 802, 20 So2d 701, 161 ALR 1.

The term, as used in workmen’s compensation acts excepting employees guilty of such negligence from the right to compensation, does not have the same meaning as the word “blamable,” but means practically the same as “wilful and serious misconduct” which in turn means improper conduct of a grave and aggravated character, either intentional misconduct, or misconduct of such a character as to evince a reckless disregard of consequences to the one who is guilty of it.  Fuhs v Swenson, 58 Wyo 393, 131 P2d 333; 58 Am J1st Workm Comp § 200.

In most of the jurisdictions the term, as used in a manslaughter statute, has been construed as meaning negligence of a higher degree than ordinary negligence which suffices as a basis for liability in a civil action. However, in a few jurisdictions the term has been construed as denoting merely ordinary negligence when used in such a statute. Anno: 161 ALR 10.
See negligent homicide. [2]

1. Both in the law of negligence and as used in criminal negligence and manslaughter statutes, a conscious and wanton disregard or the probability that death or injury will result from the willful creation of an unreasonable risk.
     See also culpable homicide; gross negligence; negligent homicide. [3]

2. See criminal negligence.

     Excerpt from 65 C.J.S. Negligence 5 1(13) (1966):

     “‘Culpable negligence,’ while variously defined, has been held incapable of exact definition; it means something more than negligence . . . . In connection with negligence, the word ‘culpable’ is sometimes used in the sense of ‘blamable,’ and it has been regarded as expressing the thought of a breach of a duty or the commission of a fault; but culpable negligence has been held to amount to more than ‘blameworthy’ conduct . . . . It does not involve the element of intent.  On the other hand, it has been said to be intentional conduct which the actor may not intend to be harmful but which an ordinary and reasonably prudent man would recognize as involving a strong probability of injury to others. [5]

gross negligence:

1. A lack of even slight diligence or care.  *  The difference between gross negligence and ordinary negligence is one of degree and not of quality.  Gross negligence is traditionally said to be the omission of even such diligence as habitually careless and inattentive people do actually exercise in avoiding danger to their own person or property. — aka willful and wanton misconduct

2. A conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless. disregard of a legal duty and of the consequences to another party, W\who may typically recover exemplary damages. — aka reckless negligence; wanton negligence; willful negligence; willful and wanton negligence; willful and wanton misconduct; hazardous negligence; magna neglegentia

3. See criminal negligence. [1]

1. A classification as difficult as any classification according to degrees of negligence. 38 Am J1st Negl § 43.

Negligence characterized by the want of even slight care.  Acting, or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally with a conscious indifference to consequences so far as other persons may be affected. [2]

1. Willfully and intentionally acting, or failing to act, with a deliberate indifference to how others may be affected.
     Compare ordinary negligence. [3]

     Excerpt from H.L.A. Hart’s Negligence, ‘Mens Rea and Criminal Responsibility,” in Punishment and Responsibility (1968):

     “Negligence is gross if the precautions to be taken against harm are very simple, such as persons who are but poorly endowed with physical and mental capacities can easily take. [6]

     Excerpt from W. Page Keeton et al.’s Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts (5th ed. 1984):

     “Gross Negligence.  As it originally appeared, this was very great negligence, or the want of even slight or scant care. It has been described as a failure to exercise even that care which a careless person would use.  Several courts, however, dissatisfied with a term so nebulous . . . have construed gross negligence as requiring willful, wanton, or reckless misconduct, or such utter lack of all care as will be evidence thereof . . . .  But it is still true that most courts consider that ‘gross negligence’ falls short of a reckless disregard of the consequences, and differs from ordinary negligence only in degree, and not in kind. [7]

hazardous negligence:

1. Careless or reckless conduct that exposes someone to extreme danger of injury or to imminent peril. 

2. See gross negligence (2).


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott Jr., Criminal Law § 3.7, at 235-37 (2d ed. 1986).

[5]: 65 C.J.S. Negligence 5 1(13) (1966).

[6]: H.L.A. Hart, “Negligence, ‘Mens Rea and Criminal Responsibility,” in Punishment and Responsibility 136, 149 (1968).

[7]: W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 34, at 211-12 (5th ed. 1984).


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