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Legal Memorandum: Definition of Gross Negligence in VI

Issue: What is the definition of gross negligence under the laws of the Virgin Islands?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Gross negligence; Allegation of negligence; Damages
Jurisdiction: Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 372 P.2d 421
Cited Statutes: 20 V.I.C. 555
Date: 05/01/2005

The statutory law of the Virgin Islands, codified at 20 V.I.C. 555, caps non-economic damages for injuries to a person arising out of a motor vehicle accident at $75,000, unless there is a “finding of gross negligence or willful conduct.”  Id.  It is black-letter law that “[d]egrees of negligence are matters of proof and not of averment; therefore, a general allegation of negligence is sufficient whether the defendant is liable for ordinary or gross negligence.”  65A C.J.S. Negligence § 680 (2000); see, e. g., Carter v. Miller, 372 P.2d 421, 424 (Mont. 1962) (same); Kizer v. Bowman, 124 S.E.2d 543, 547 (N.C. 1962) (same).

No Virgin Islands case was found defining the term for purposes of this statute.  On the other hand, the Third Circuit has had occasion to define the term “gross negligence” when a statutory definition is lacking.  See Fialkowski v. Greenwich Home for Children, Inc. 921 F.2d 459, 462 (3d Cir. 1990).  When the statute does not define “gross negligence” and there is no other indication of legislative intent, the correct course is to apply the generally accepted meaning of the term.  Id. at 462.  The generally accepted definition is:

Gross negligence generally signifies a greater want of care than is implied by ordinary negligence, which in turn means no more than a failure to measure up to the conduct of a reasonable person.  Gross negligence has also been described as the want of even scant care and the failure to […]

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