Gross Negligence Defined - Criminal Vehicular Operation

Criminal vehicular operation criminalizes certain driving misconduct that results in injury or death. Of the various driving misconduct that can result in criminal vehicular operation, the gross negligence standard is the one most up for interpretation. So, let’s take a deeper look into what this means under Minnesota law.

There are many different ways the courts define “gross negligence” as it relates to criminal vehicular operation. Probably the most common definition is “very great negligence or without even scant care but not with such reckless disregard of probable consequences as is equivalent to a willful and intentional wrong.” For instance, “a sufficient degree of inattention to the road could constitute a lack of slight care,” which would be gross negligence. It has been further defined as “a heedless and palpable, though not intentional, violation of a legal duty respecting the rights of others.” It is “appreciably higher in magnitude than ordinary negligence” and “materially more want of care than what constitutes simple inadvertence.” Finally, it is “an act or omission respecting a legal duty of an aggravated character as distinguished from a mere failure to exercise ordinary care.” It is more than the negligence needed to give rise to a civil lawsuit.

Clear as mud, right? Because it is not clear, this is what can make this offense harder to prove by the State. The same facts may lead to different results under different scenarios. For instance, falling asleep at the wheel is itself ordinary not gross negligence, but in combination with other facts the defendant neglects to account for, a court and/or jury may find falling asleep to be gross negligence. A recent court of appeals case could be a good example of this. The defendant had a seizure and caused a multi-vehicle accident that led to a death. A seizure by itself may not be gross negligence. But, in that case, the defendant had a history of seizures, a cancelled license due to his seizures, and his doctor told him he cannot drive, too. Under those circumstances, it was grossly negligent for the defendant to drive at all.

As you can see, gross negligence is both hard to define and hard to nail down to a specific set of facts. If you are facing criminal vehicular operation or homicide charges stemming from alleged gross negligence, it is imperative to get a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer to fight for you. There is too much at stake and a lot of room to litigate, negotiate, and fight on your behalf. The North Star Criminal Defense team knows how to maneuver within this complicated definition of gross negligence to our clients benefit.