Examples of Negligence: Criminal and Civil

, Staff Writer
Updated May 11, 2021
negligence texting while driving
    negligence texting while driving
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Negligence is a term that means carelessness or a breach of an obligation. Negligence is used in general language to mean someone was unreasonably lax in fulfilling some obligation. If someone is negligent in the eyes of the law, he or she could face a civil lawsuit or even criminal charges. Reviewing some negligence examples can help you better understand the concept.

Criminal Negligence

Negligence occurs when a person puts others at risk as a result of a failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care. To be criminally negligent, a person has to be aware that there is a significant and unjustified risk associated with a behavior that represents an egregious deviation from an appropriate standard of care. Criminal negligence claims are issued by law enforcement authorities.

  • A parent who leaves a two-year-old child alone in the house in order to go out to a bar and have a good time could face charges for criminal negligence.
  • A person who drives 40 miles per hour over the speed limit in a really dangerous way and who causes a car accident and injures someone could be charged with criminal negligence.
  • An individual who operates a car or other vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and injures another person, as a result, could be charged with criminal negligence.
  • A person who breaks texting-and-driving laws and who is typing a text message when he or she gets into a car accident and kills someone could be considered criminally negligent.
  • Someone who intentionally leaves a child locked in a car when it is hot outside can face criminal negligence charges.
  • A doctor who prescribes addictive drugs to a known drug addict because the doctor gets paid for his or her services could be considered criminally negligent.
  • An individual who fires a gun into the air during a festival or other gathering of people could be charged with criminal negligence.
  • The decision-makers at a company that releases a dangerous drug without following expected protocols to test the medication and identify all of the side effects could be criminally negligent.
  • An employer who knowingly fails to follow OSHA guidelines after being issued a warning can be criminally negligent for injuries related to the violation.
  • A person who owns a dog with a history of biting people chooses to take the dog to an off-leash dog park. If the dog attacks someone at the park, the owner could be found criminally negligent.

Each state has its own criminal laws that define criminal negligence. Someone charged with criminal negligence could go to jail. A person who is convicted of criminal negligence could also be sued for civil negligence.


Civil Negligence

An individual who was harmed through the negligent actions of another person can sue that person in civil court. The family of the individual who was harmed can file charges on their behalf if the individual is incapacitated or deceased. The person who behaved in a negligent manner can have civil liability for their actions, even if their actions were not intentional. There are many examples of situations where negligence can lead to a civil lawsuit.

  • Property owners who let the steps to their home fall into disrepair could be considered negligent if someone who comes to their home gets injured as a result.
  • A restaurant owner who mops the slippery floor and forgets to put up a "wet floor" sign could be considered negligent.
  • A store that hosts a huge sale with deep discounts but does not provide sufficient security to control a mob scene could be considered negligent if shoppers get hurt.
  • A doctor who operates on the wrong body part due to misreading a patient's chart could be guilty of medical negligence, which is a type of civil negligence.
  • A driver who runs a stop sign and causes an accident that harms another person or their property can be considered negligent.
  • A lawyer who doesn't really know how to prosecute a case takes the case anyway. If the lawyer doesn't adequately represent the client, the lawyer can be liable for professional negligence.
  • A company doesn't do background checks on applicants. A new hire with a history of violent behavior beats up several coworkers. The company could be found to have negligent hiring practices.
  • In a restaurant, if food or beverages get spilled on the floor and they aren't properly marked or cleaned up in a timely manner, the restaurant may liable for negligence if injuries occur.
  • A person using a product for its intended purpose gets injured because the product is defective. The manufacturer could be held liable for civil negligence.
  • If a business that is open during nighttime hours fails to provide proper lighting in the parking area, the owner could be negligent if customers or employees get injured as a result.

Civil law focuses on ensuring that injured parties are properly compensated. In each of these situations, a plaintiff could file a lawsuit and obtain compensation if he or she can prove the negligence was the direct cause of some type of harm they endured.


Criminal vs. Civil Negligence

Both criminal and civil negligence involve failure to adhere to an appropriate standard of care. Civil negligence can occur as the result of a mistake or oversight, whereas criminal negligence requires that a person be aware that what they are doing poses a risk to other people. A person found guilty of criminal negligence could face jail time or probation, while someone facing a civil negligence claim is facing a lawsuit that could require them to pay money to someone who was injured as a result of their actions. A person could face both civil and criminal charges for a single action.

Beyond Legalities

It's important for people to understand the law as it relates to their own behavior and their individual rights. It's also important to consider basic concepts and right and wrong. Now that you are familiar with the legal concepts of civil and criminal negligence, take the time to explore additional implications of actions that can cause other people to be harmed. Start by reviewing the difference between ethics, morals and values.