When a person commits or omits an act that causes injury to another, he is said to have committed a tort. A tort is a civil wrong for which the courts impose liability. A crime is an offense or an illegal act for which a person is subjected to criminal proceedings. Negligence in general means acting carelessly. In a legal sense when a person acts negligently, he is liable to compensate for the same.
NEGLIGENCE AS A TORT (CIVIL NEGLIGENCE)
A person is said to be negligent if he does an act resulting in harm to someone else which a person with ordinary prudence would not have done.
According to Winfield and Jolowicz- ‘Negligence is the breach of a legal duty to take care which results in damage, undesired by the defendant to the plaintiff.’
Following are the important features of civil negligence:
- Defendant (the person against whom a complaint is filed) owned a legal duty towards the plaintiff (the person who files a complaint).
- Defendant’s breach of that duty.
- Plaintiff suffers an injury on the account of breach of duty by the defendant.
- Defendant’s breach of duty must be proved.
The defendant must owe a duty of care towards the plaintiff. Duty of care is the most essential element for the tort of negligence. For example, manufacturers owe a duty of care to those who buy their products, a doctor has a duty of care to their patients, business representatives have a duty of care to make decisions that are best for their business, etc. The duty of care must be owed towards the plaintiff and there must be a breach of that duty.
A famous case DONOGHUE V. STEVENSON established the principles of duty of care and laid the foundation for the modern law of negligence. In this case, Mrs. Donoghue’s friend brought her a bottle of ginger beer. The bottle was non-transparent therefore the contents inside the bottle could not be seen. Mrs. Donoghue consumed about half of the bottle and when the remaining contents were poured into the glass, the decomposed remains of the snail emerged from the bottle as a result of which Mrs. Donoghue suffered from physical illness.
She issued proceedings against the manufacturer of the ginger beer, Mr. Stevenson. Since there was no contract between the two parties, the question was whether Mr. Stevenson, the manufacturer owed a duty of care towards Mrs. Donoghue. The court held the manufacturer to be liable and said that he owes a duty of care towards anyone who is so closely and directly affected by his acts.
NEGLIGENCE AS A CRIME (CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE)
Criminal negligence is when a person does an act which he knows to be harmful to human life which a person with ordinary prudence would have foreseen. Such as driving a car at high speed while using the phone, giving a harmful object into the hands of a child, etc.
To hold the defendant liable, the plaintiff must prove that the person has deliberately acted negligent and any prudent person would have known the consequences of such actions. An act can be considered as criminal negligence if it is not merely a simple mistake and negative consequences of the same are known to the person.
DEFENCES FOR THE ACTS OF NEGLIGENCE
Civil negligence- In case a person suffers an injury upon himself by his own negligence he cannot claim remedies for the same. Similarly acts of God which is unable to foresee or inevitable accidents that could not be prevented by the duty of care act as a good defense for negligence.
Criminal negligence- A person who is charged for criminal negligence will have to prove that he did not or could not have had the knowledge of the harm his action would cause. Since knowledge is the most important element in this regard, a person must be able to prove that he lacked to have an idea about the consequences of the act, therefore, could not practice the duty of care regarding the same.
PUNISHMENTS FOR THE ACTS OF NEGLIGENCE
A person who is held to be guilty of civil negligence can be asked to pay the compensation to the party with respect to any loss suffered by him. It may include lost wages, physical suffering or illness, medical costs, etc.
A person who is held to be guilty of criminal negligence shall be asked to pay fines, restitution, probation, or community services.
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