Gross Negligence Definition Under Tennessee State Law

Under Tennessee law, gross negligence refers to a total disregard for the safety and rights of others. This term also describes blatant indifference to the potential consequences of one’s actions (or lack thereof).

How does negligence differ from gross negligence?

As a legal concept, negligent actions deviate from the actions that a reasonable person would take in a given circumstance.

Negligence involves an action or a failure to act that may lead to potential, foreseeable harm. A reasonable person, anticipating potential harm to others, would exercise rational, sensible care in her actions to prevent this harm. This is known as the legal concept of duty of care. If one fails to exercise her duty of care, she may have been negligent in her actions.

The key difference between negligence and gross negligence is that the former is typically involuntary and unconscious, or an unintended mistake. Gross negligence is an intentional mistake, or conscious, voluntary act of disregard that places others in harm’s way.

How does Tennessee case law address gross negligence?

Because the legal concept of gross negligence is not specifically set forth in state statutes, we must look to case law for a state-specific interpretation of this concept.

In Buckner v. Varner, the court defined gross negligence as “a conscious neglect of duty or a callous indifference to consequences” or “such entire want of care as would raise a presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences.”  

Thrasher v. Riverbend Stables established that a plaintiff cannot prove a claim of gross negligence without first demonstrating that the defendant engaged in conduct that amounts to ordinary negligence.

Gross v. Nashville Gas Co., 608 S.W.2d 860 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1980) cited three conditions plaintiffs can use to establish the presence of gross negligence, specifically:

  • ‘such entire want of care as would raise a presumption of conscious indifference to consequences,’ or
  • a ‘heedless and reckless disregard for another’s rights,’ or
  • ‘utter unconcern for the safety of others.’

Why would I need to show gross negligence?

Showing gross negligence can persuade a jury to award punitive damages to punish the defendant for his behavior. One of the most important Tennessee cases determining whether a jury may award punitive damages (Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co.) established that, for the award of punitive damages, “the defendant must have acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly.”

What is gross negligence in a car accident?

Gross negligence can take many forms. An example of gross negligence in a car accident could include drunk or reckless driving. Our team can help you determine, and prove, whether the other driver in your accident showed gross negligence in your accident.

Get help after a Knoxville car accident.

While you might think the other driver’s actions amount to gross negligence, every case is unique. The advice of a car accident attorney is the most effective way to determine the proper course of action.
Contact Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC today to schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your case and the potential for gross negligence in your Tennessee car accident case: 865-546-1111.