Mesa AZ | What is gross negligence in a personal injury case?
If you are considering a personal injury claim or an action for medical malpractice, you may have come across the term gross negligence. Law.com defines it as: “carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is just shy of being intentionally evil.” In other words, gross negligence falls somewhere between a negligent action and willful, malicious action.
In some states, gross negligence constitutes separate grounds (from simple negligence) for a personal injury claim. In others, it constitutes grounds for a claim of punitive damages, which punish the defendant for wrongdoing rather than just compensate the injured party.
In Arizona, gross negligence does not constitute separate grounds for a claim, nor does it lead to punitive damages. In fact, gross negligence is almost entirely absent from Arizona personal injury law. There are not ‘degrees’ of negligence that can result in different types of personal injury claims; and punitive damages can only be granted where the defendant “acted with an evil mind.”
Nonetheless, there is a place for gross negligence in Arizona law, albeit a fairly small one. It lies in the area of qualified immunity. Under Arizona law, certain individuals and entities – in certain very specific circumstances – are immune from personal injury liability, unless their conduct was grossly negligent or intentionally harmful. This type of immunity mostly comes up in cases involving government employees and entities, but it also applies to certain medical malpractice actions.
For example, Arizona Revised Statutes 12-571(A) states the following:
A health professional…who provides medical, optometric or dental treatment, care or screening within the scope of the health professional’s certificate or license at a nonprofit clinic where neither the professional nor the nonprofit clinic receives compensation for any treatment, care or screening provided at the nonprofit clinic is not liable in a medical malpractice action, unless the health professional was grossly negligent. For the purposes of this subsection, “nonprofit clinic” includes a clinic, an office, a homeless or other shelter, a health or screening fair or any other setting where treatment, care or screening is provided at no cost to the patient.
So, gross negligence is indeed mostly absent from Arizona law. However, as you can see from the statute above, when gross negligence matters, it REALLY matters. In a more typical medical malpractice case, the plaintiff only has to prove negligence. However, if a person receives medical care from a nonprofit clinic that meets the requirements set out in ARS 12-571(A), and that person later wishes to bring a medical malpractice claim, the treatment doctor will not be liable unless the person can prove gross negligence. This drastically changes the way the plaintiff must go about his or her case, and potentially eliminates any realistic chance at recovery.
If you believe that your personal injury claim or medical malpractice claim might involve one of Arizona’s qualified immunity laws, please seek the assistance of an experienced attorney. Such an attorney can help you evaluate your case, decide whether the immunity can be overcome by proof of gross negligence, and go forward in a manner that will best guarantee you success on your claim.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Gross Negligence, or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.