What is negligence?

We have all heard the term ‘negligence’ before. However, many people do not know what negligence actually means as a legal concept. In this article, we give you a high-level understanding of negligence and how negligence can impact your life.


What does negligence really mean?


Put simply, negligence is when an individual or company fails to meet a standard or take proper care of something, which would have prevented something bad from happening. That might look like a store not using salt on their walk, resulting in someone slipping and hurting themselves on ice, or it could look like a construction company failing to put up adequate signs around their construction site. There are many scenarios where someone could be found to be negligent.


In law, negligence can refer to a number of scenarios. Negligence cases often look different from one another, but they can involve damaged goods, injuries, and more.  Negligence arises whenever someone owes what is called a “duty of care” to someone else, based on a set of circumstances. A duty of care is simply the obligation to take reasonable care to do or not do anything that could cause harm (physical, mental, financial) to the other person. One common example involving a duty of care is the professional relationship, where the acts or statements of the professional can have serious consequences for their clients/patients.


In Canada, there are two different kinds of negligence: civil negligence and criminal negligence. Civil negligence is usually litigated in civil courts, whereas criminal negligence will involve criminal charges and prosecution. If someone is found guilty of criminal negligence, they could face jail time, probations, or fines. Criminal negligence cases tend to be less common and usually involve seriously harming another person through one’s actions, such as leaving a child in a car on a hot day.


Criminal negligence can also arise in cases where someone has a very high duty of care that they owe to someone else. For example, if a doctor is operating on a patient and does not wash their hands properly, causing the patient to develop an infection, they could be found guilty of criminal negligence. 


Civil negligence tends to be more common and is considered to be a ‘tort’, which is a legal term for a wrongful act (whether or not criminal). 


What does civil negligence usually involve?


Civil negligence will usually involve a person who is harmed by the negligent actions of a person or a company, and it is litigated in civil court. Personal injury cases all involve negligence allegations, for example. Further, if the person who has been harmed has died, the case can be pursued by their family members on their behalf. 


Individuals and companies can still be found liable for negligence, even if their actions were not intentional if their actions are held to have fallen below the “standard of care” that they owed to the harmed person. The standard of care is a legal term that applies after it has been determined that a duty of care exists. The standard of care refers to the specific level of care and attention that a reasonable person would expect the person under the duty of care to use.


What happens if I am sued for negligence?


If someone is suing you for negligence, you will first receive a demand letter, in which a lawyer representing the other party will allege the negligence and demand compensation. At that point, you should seek legal representation to help you navigate the next steps. Very often, your lawyer will write a reply letter for you giving your side of the story and advocating for a resolution.


How do I avoid being liable for negligence?


If you are working for a company that customers interact with physically, you should keep your eyes out for potential negligence issues. For example, if you work at a restaurant where customers eat in the dining room, you should look out for spills, sharp objects, and places where customers can injure themselves.


You don’t need to go above and beyond by wrapping the restaurant in bubble wrap to prevent any possible injuries, of course, but you do need to meet the regular “standard of care”. The standard of care will be different based on each situation, so it is important to think about what is common in a given industry.


For example, in a restaurant, the standard of care might be to use tables with rounded corners and place a sign warning people of the wet floor if there’s a spill. If you take steps to ensure that you are reducing the possibility of injury, you will reduce the likelihood that you can be found liable for negligence, even if something does go wrong.


Being on top of your duties to your customers and how the law affects you is a good way to avoid finding yourself in legal trouble. If you are worried about potential issues of negligence in your workplace, speak to a lawyer or someone who knows the potential safety issues of your environment. 




Negligence is one of the most important areas of law facing businesses. Businesses, where customers have a possibility of being injured, should make sure that they are keeping up with safety standards and doing what is in their power to prevent issues. 


If you have questions about your responsibilities or how you can avoid being found liable for negligence, be sure to reach out to a qualified team member at Achkar Law. 


Contact Us


If you are an employer who has questions about negligence, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist. 


If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with a same-day response, visit our Chief Legal Officer Program page for our strategic solutions.