The term “negligence” as used in personal injury law implies that there has been a disregard of responsibility, either knowingly or in a situation where a person or organization should reasonably have known about hazardous or dangerous conditions.
A grocery store owner who discovers that children have spilled a large quantity of soda in an aisle, for example, needs to mop it up and clear the area so that customers do not slip on a slick and dangerous floor and injure themselves. That is one of the responsibilities of owning the area. If those responsibilities are not adhered to, or if the owner knows about the spill but does nothing for a considerable period of time, she can be liable for damages in a personal injury suit.
How does gross negligence differ from standard negligence? Gross negligence is similar in that a responsibility has not been discharged properly or a dangerous situation has not been attended to. Gross negligence, though, stems from behavior that is not simply careless or heedless, but reckless. It includes unreasonable or willful misconduct.
Say, for example, that homeowners have a hammock in their backyard, strung between two trees. One of the trees contracts a disease that is undetectable from the outside, but it slowly dies. The owners do not have the tree cut down, although they know it is dead. They tell friends that the tree does not need to be removed because the hammock is never used.
One day, a child jumps into the hammock and the weight breaks the tree, causing him to tumble to the ground and also causing him to be hit by the tree. If it can be proven that they knew the tree was dead and did not perform proper maintenance–having the tree removed–they may be liable for damages in a gross negligence suit.