Home Blog Willful Negligence (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

Willful Negligence (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What is Willful Negligence?

What is the difference with ordinary negligence or gross negligence?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our negligence laws and tort!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

What Is Willful Negligence 

Willful negligence is a type of negligence that is more severe than ordinary negligence as the person knowingly engages in negligent conduct or intentionally disregards the risk of harm to others.

For conduct to be legally qualified as a willful act or willful omission, the wrongdoer doesn’t need to act with malice.

In essence, when a person engages in conduct that he or she knows to be reckless (even without intending to hurt someone) or behavior that may expose others to risk (again without malice), the person is said to have been willfully negligent.


How do you define willful negligence?

Here is how we define the legal definition of willful negligence:

“Willful negligence” is when a person knowingly engages in an act (or fails to act) or intentionally disregards the likely risk of harm to others.

The term “willful” places this type of negligence right under “intent”.

In essence, the mental state of the wrongdoer or tortfeasor was right below deliberate and intentional conduct to cause harm.

“Willful” negligence is conduct where the person knowingly acted knowing that it’s a risk (but not wanting to cause harm) or intentionally disregarding risk to others (again without an actual intention to cause harm).


What are the elements that you need to prove to win a willful negligence lawsuit?

To win a willful negligence case, you need to first demonstrate the elements of negligence:

  • The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances
  • The defendant breached its legal duty through negligent act or failure to act 
  • The defendant’s negligent conduct or omission resulted in the plaintiff’s injury
  • The plaintiff suffered damages 

Then, you need to demonstrate that the defendant’s behavior marked a significant difference between that of a reasonable and ordinary person in the same circumstances, such a:

  • The defendant intentionally and voluntarily committed the act (or failed to act) knowingly disregarding all the risks 
  • The defendant’s conduct was outrageously reckless and it was likely to result in substantial harm to another (perhaps death)


Let’s look at an example of willful negligence in car accident cases.

In many car accidents, you may be able to argue that one driver or many drivers involved were negligent (ordinary negligence).

However, in fewer cases will you be able to argue that the driver was willfully negligent. 

Here are some examples of car accidents involving willful negligence:

  • Car accidents where the driver was under the influence of drugs
  • Car accidents where the driver was under the influence of alcohol 
  • Car crashes where the driver was not legally licensed to drive
  • Car collisions or accidents caused by defective vehicles or car components 


What damages can a person obtain for injuries caused by another due to willful negligence?

A willful negligence case is a type of civil lawsuit falling under the umbrella of tort law.

Negligence laws allow the victim of injuries to recover financial compensation from the wrongdoer to compensate for the losses caused due to a negligent act.

Although you should consult a personal injury lawyer or negligence lawyer in your jurisdiction, typically, you can seek the following damages:

  • Compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages)
  • Punitive damages

Compensatory damages are amounts awarded to the plaintiff to cover all the losses or injuries suffered by the defendant’s willful behavior.

It can be split into economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are actual damages suffered, such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Prescription drugs
  • Medical devices
  • Surgery costs
  • Emergency transportation costs 

Non-economic damages are damages suffered by the plaintiff that are not provable through the production of receipts, statements, and invoices, such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of consortium
  • Stress and anxiety 

The second type of damage that may be possible to get is punitive damages.

Punitive damage is an award given by a judge or jury to “punish” the defendant and set an example for others to refrain from adopting the same conduct.

Punitive damages compensate the plaintiff over and above the economic and non-economic losses.

It might be helpful to consult a personal injury attorney to see what types of compensation and damages are available to you if you were injured due to another’s reckless conduct.


There are insurance policies that individuals and companies can purchase to cover acts of gross negligence or willful negligence.

However, most insurance companies will cover acts of ordinary negligence but will not cover gross negligence or willful negligence.

As a result, when an accident occurs where the insured’s actions were intentional and disregarding likely harm to others, it may be possible that insurance companies deny potential claims.

Willful Negligence vs Ordinary Negligence 

What is the difference between willful negligence and ordinary negligence? 

Ordinary negligence is a legal phrase used in tort to refer to a person who fails to act like a reasonable person in the same situation causing harm to another.

Negligence lawsuits and cases require that the plaintiff prove four elements:

  • Duty 
  • Breach 
  • Damages
  • Causality 

You are likely to see negligence claims filed against a negligent driver of a vehicle causing an accident, slip and fall cases, workplace injury, or other.

Willful negligence cases are less frequent as the tortfeasor’s negligent behavior is more severe.

When dealing with a reckless case, the defendant’s actions were outrageously negligent or posed a significant risk to the safety of others.

For example, when a person drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol causing a serious (perhaps deadly) accident, the driver will be considered to be reckless, having posed a willful act of negligence.

Willful Negligence vs Gross Negligence 

What is the difference between a willfully negligent act versus gross negligence?

Gross negligence is a type of act or omission that is substantially higher than ordinary negligence.

In other words, the courts consider that “gross negligence” is a behavior that is extreme or significantly deviating from what is expected of a reasonable person.

For example, a driver that exceeds the speed limits in excessive ways in a residential area can be considered grossly negligent. 

Gross negligence is conduct where there is a significant divergence with the conduct expected of a reasonable person in the same circumstances, there is a more severe degree of negligence and carelessness. 

“Willful negligence” is a type of behavior that is right below “intent”.

The person “knew” that the conduct or omission will likely cause harm and did not care.

In a “willful” negligence case, you must prove that the defendant knowingly engaged in an activity or intentionally disregarded the risk of harm to others.

Willful Negligence Takeaways 

So what is the legal definition of Willful Negligence?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Willful Negligence:

  • Any act, conduct, behavior, omission, or failure to act where a person knowingly acted understanding there is a likely risk to cause harm or intentionally disregarded the likely risk of harm to others 
  • There are different degrees of negligence (ordinary negligence, gross negligence, and willful negligence) 
  • You must prove the elements of negligence (duty, breach, damages, causation) and show that the defendant “knew” of the risks or “disregarded” them
  • In a willful negligence claim or lawsuit, the plaintiff can seek to recover compensatory damages (economic damages), general damages (non-economic damages), and punitive damages 
Car accident 
Car accident lawyer near me
Catastrophic accidents
Defective products 
Limitation of liability 
Medical malpractice
Professional negligence 
Trucking accident 
Vexatious litigation 
Warehouse safety 
Willful misconduct 
Workers’ compensation
Comparative negligence
Compensatory damages 
Consequential damages 
Contributory negligence 
Damages legal definition 
Express negligence rule 
General damages 
Gross negligence
Negligence definition 
Punitive damages
Wrongful death

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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