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What is General Negligence?

Dorian Hunter
Dorian Hunter

General negligence is a legal term that comes into play when someone fails to act with a discretion that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances. Negligence forms the basis for most civil litigation, with people seeking damages based on a variety of situations from physical injuries to property damage and business errors. General negligence is typically a civil claim, because there is a monetary or similar compensation for damages at stake, rather than criminal prosecution.

Jurisdictions may differ slightly in the exact classification of the elements required to constitute negligence. In most claims of negligence, a person must prove that the supposedly negligent party had a duty to the injured claimant or to the public. In addition, he must prove the action or lack thereof was not what a reasonable person would have done, and that the negligence directly caused the harm done. In some instances, some jurisdictions require proof that the harm done could have been foreseeable enough to prevent the negligence.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

More specifically, an important element in a general negligence case is whether there was a contractual or similar relationship between the parties. Another element that must be proved is that there was a breach, or failure, to perform the expectations of that relationship or professional service. A person sometimes also must prove that the failure caused certain injury or harm to body, property, psychological health, finances, or personal relationships. Being unable to establish these fundamental elements in a negligence claim may put a case in jeopardy, or the claim could be disregarded entirely.

Legally, negligence is not the same as the common notion of “not being careful". A person could perform with much proficiency or skill, but fall below a set level of professional standards in a certain field of expertise. Civil law in many countries also recognizes intentional acts of negligence, in which a person has acted with intent to harm another. Still others acknowledge an indirect liability, which allows recovery under certain circumstances that occur without intentional negligence.

For most jurisdictions, general negligence falls within a civil domain, with compensation for the negligence rather than having it treated as a criminal offense. Negligence typically concerns matters of professional standards, contracts, or damage to property, so it is rare that general negligence is treated as a criminal offense. Awards for injury resulting from negligence often consist of financial restitution, such as money or property. Compensation for incurred harm is based on the damage done, and is usually just enough to restore the claimant to his original condition.

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