In cases in which willful negligence is argued, the plaintiff attempts to show that the defendant consciously chose to disregard the safety or security of others. In other words, the defendant disregarded risks of which he or she was aware.
Some personal injury lawsuits argue the defendant was willfully and grossly negligent. Thought these terms are sometimes used separately and sometimes in conjunction, there is no real distinction between the two. Both essentially communicate the same concept: an individual or entity disregarded known risks and is therefore responsible for any injuries that occurred as a result.
An example of a personal injury claim in which willful negligence would apply is a lawsuit in which a defendant knew he or she was selling a product that contained led paint and was marketing that product for children.
To establish willful negligence, the plaintiff must prove not only that the vendor failed to meet his or her basic responsibilities for selling safe products, but also that the vendor was fully aware of the dangers of the product. In this example, the plaintiff must prove the defendant knew the product contained led paint.
While proving the defendant should have known the product contained led can still result in the payment of damages for injuries, proving willful negligence usually results in significantly higher compensation. This is because the defendant is often required to pay standard compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.