How Is It Different from Ordinary Negligence? Where Is It Recognized?
In the American legal system, when you act negligently, and your negligence causes another person to suffer damages, you can be held accountable in a civil lawsuit or personal injury claim. There are situations, however, where the extent or degree of carelessness or negligence can constitute a criminal violation as well. That type of negligence goes by different names—in most states, it is referred to as “criminal negligence,” but at least two states (Florida and Mississippi) use the term “culpable negligence.”
What Is Ordinary Negligence?
Negligence is governed by state law, so the definition can have minor differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, generally speaking, ordinary (or civil) negligence requires a showing that:
- The person from whom compensation is sought failed to act as a reasonable person would; and
- That failure to act reasonably caused an event (accident); and
- The accident resulted in actual losses for the party seeking compensation.
What Are the Potential Consequences of Liability for Ordinary Negligence?
An ordinary negligence action is a legal dispute between two private parties, with one of those parties seeking financial compensation for an injury or loss caused by the other party’s wrongful conduct. That monetary compensation, referred to as “damages” under the law, can cover a wide range of losses:
- Economic damages—These damages are traditionally tangible and easy to ascertain. They include such things as unreimbursed medical expenses, lost wages or other income, and property damage or loss.
- Noneconomic damages—These losses are less tangible and more speculative. They include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life (the inability to engage in the ordinary activities of life or do things that previously brought satisfaction, contentment, or pleasure), and loss of consortium or companionship.
What Is Culpable Negligence?
Culpable negligence (or “criminal negligence,” as it is called in most states) generally requires a different state of mind than ordinary negligence. Whereas ordinary negligence involves failing to behave as a reasonably careful person would behave, culpable negligence requires either engaging in acts that a reasonable person would expect to pose a risk of serious injury to others, or a wanton or callous disregard for the consequences of one’s actions.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Culpable Negligence?
Unlike ordinary negligence, culpable negligence is a criminal offense, governed by statutes enacted by a legislature. A prosecutor or state’s attorney files culpable negligence charges against the defendant, who may be convicted or acquitted by a jury. Penalties for conviction can include incarceration, community service, and significant fines. Those fines, however, are paid to the state and not to the victim.
What Are Some Examples of Culpable Negligence?
Florida law defines culpable negligence as any behavior “showing reckless disregard for human life, or for the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects.” Typical situations where a person may face charges of culpable (or criminal) negligence include driving a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol or operating a motor vehicle at an excessively high rate of speed. Other instances where people have been charged with criminal negligence include engaging in horseplay with a loaded gun, firing a gun into the air above a crowd, and leaving a child unattended in a sealed car in hot weather.
The law makes a distinction between ordinary negligence and culpable/criminal negligence. As a general rule, ordinary negligence can rise to the level of culpable/criminal negligence when the behavior of the wrongdoer shows a reckless or wanton disregard for the value of human life. A person may be held liable for monetary damages for ordinary negligence but can face criminal sanctions for culpable or criminal negligence.