What is Criminal Negligence?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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Criminal negligence is a legal term used to describe actions that are so egregiously negligent as to be considered criminal. Generally, intent is an element of most crimes, which means that a person cannot be found guilty of a criminal act unless he performed an intentional action that violated common law or criminal codes; this is referred to as the actus reus or mens rea. Criminal negligence is an alternative way to satisfy the mens rea requirement and find someone guilty of a crime.

Negligence is a concept found in both criminal and tort, or civil, law. The concept of negligence relates to the common law belief, developed in judicial cases over hundreds of years, that every individual owes a duty to other individuals. Breach of that duty is a legal lapse that is punishable either by a lawsuit, by criminal sanctions or both.

The standard for negligence in the United States is a reasonable person standard. This means that, when the court determines whether an individual behaved negligently and breached his duty of care, the court will determine how a reasonable person would have behaved in that situation and will then compare that to how the defendant in the particular case behaved. If the defendant's behavior falls short of what the reasonable person would have done, the defendant can be considered legally negligent.


The reasonable person standard generally does not vary. This means that all people are held to the same general standard, regardless of their education level or specific circumstances. The only exceptions exist in cases of children, who are held to a reasonable child standard based on the mental capacity of a child their age; the mentally ill; and doctors or lawyers who are held to a reasonable doctor/lawyer standard in cases of malpractice.

In order for negligence to be punished as a crime, the action must extend beyond ordinary negligence. Failure to behave in a reasonable matter alone cannot stand in for the required intent element of a crime. Only behavior that is so negligent it is almost guaranteed to cause injury constitutes criminal negligence.

Common examples of criminal negligence include driving while intoxicated or reckless driving. A person who commits these actions and kills someone may be subject to criminal penalties even if he did not intend to kill someone, because the criminal negligence he exhibited satisfies the mens rea requirement. Driving drunk and killing a victim is an example of criminally negligent homicide, which may be charged as vehicular manslaughter or a related crime.


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Post 5

Greenweaver- Also, if a doctor prescribes medication to a pregnant patient and the patient then delivers a baby with significant birth defects that could be attributed to the medication that the doctor prescribed then this is also a case for the negligence lawyer.

Post 4

Cupcake15-I totally agree. I wanted to add that medical negligence lawyers also seek damages for their clients who have suffered from criminal medical negligence.

This occurs when the doctor did not provide reasonable care for the patient and as a result of his lack of care, the patient is further injured.

For example, if a patient is diabetic and has chest pains and the doctor does not investigate the chest pains by not doing an EKG and the patient suffers from a heart attack as a result, this could be considered medically negligent because the doctor should immediately investigate a warning sign like that and not dismiss this as heartburn.

Also, the fact that the person is a diabetic should also alert the doctor that heart disease is common among diabetic patients and that it should be evaluated.

Post 3

Sunny27- That is so awful. There was a case a few years ago where a little girl actually died as a result of one of these rides.

Negligence criminal law cases are also found in daycares. There was a daycare that had to shut down, here in Florida because the operator of the daycare left a two year old in a van and forgot about the child.

The child passed away as a result and the daycare had to seek assistance from criminal attorneys. For me there would not be a punishment that would be severe enough for people like this.

I mean, how you can forget about a child. A child is not an object that you just happen to leave in the car. This is disgraceful.

Post 2

There is a case in Florida, in which a 12 year old girl fell off of a faulty carnival ride and is now paralyzed.

The family of the little girl sought a negligence lawyer and is suing the operators of the carnival for this criminal offense as well as the manufacturers of the ride for product liability negligence.

The family is seeking several million dollars in relief to go to the child’s lifetime care. I never go to carnivals. I personally have seen some of the rides and they are usually in dilapidated conditions.

The only places that I allow my children to ride rides are in commercial theme parks like Disney and Universal Studios who have safety measures in place that include inspections of the rides.

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