Virginia: Gross Negligence – a Lawyer’s Evidence

Virginia: Gross Negligence – a Lawyer’s Evidence

Gagnon v. Burns, No. 049352 in Gloucester Circuit Court, the brain injury victim alleges gross negligence as an exception to the sovereign immunity claimed by the defendant Assistant Principal. Plaintiffs allege that his failure to exercise any prudence, diligence or care for the safety of the student constitutes gross negligence as a matter of law.

“Gross negligence” is “that degree of negligence which shows indifference to others as constitutes an utter disregard of prudence amounting to a complete neglect of the safety of [another].” Koffman v. Garnett, 265 Va. 12, 15 (2003). “A claim of gross negligence, which involves the ‘absence of slight diligence, or the want of even scant care,’ will not lie if the defendant exercised some degree of care with regard to the plaintiff. Colby v. Boyden, 241 Va. 125, 133, 400 S.E. 2d 184, 189 (1991).” Whitley v. Commonwealth, 260 Va. 482, 490 (2000). Jennings v. Hart, 602 F. Supp. 2d 754, 758 n.6 (W.D. Va. 2009)(Virginia law).

Thus, the Court in Colby held there was no gross negligence where the trial court found defendant “exercised ‘some degree’ of care for the safety of others.” 241 Va. at 133 (emphasis added). Likewise in Whitley there was no gross negligence where the trial court’s “findings show that defendants exercised at least some degree of care” toward the victim. 260 Va. at 490.

Conversely in Jennings, however, the Court ruled defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity for “any alleged acts of negligence [gross or simple]” based on defendants having showed no degree of care for the victim. 602 F. Supp. 2d at 759 (emphasis added). “Holding otherwise would imply that [defendants] have complete discretion to ignore… and disregard….” Id. (denying sovereign immunity on Rule 12(b)(6) motion).

Moreover, the case cited by Gloucester Circuit Court at hearing on December 16, 2009, B.M.H. v. The School Board of the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, 833 F. Supp. 560 (E.D. Va. 1993)(Virginia law), supports Plaintiffs’ position too. In B.M.H., school teachers “failed to take action [about a threat…] even though they had stated an intention to do so”; and this allegation alone sufficed to support the claim of gross negligence. Id. at 562, 574.