neg·​li·​gence | \ˈne-gli-jən(t)s \

Definition of negligence 

1a : the quality or state of being negligent

b : failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances … his naivete and negligence had been the source of his problems.— Michael Leahy

2 : an act or instance of being negligent regretted his past negligences

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Examples of negligence in a Sentence

The company was charged with negligence in the manufacturing of the defective tires. exhibiting his usual negligence, he failed to set the emergency brake, and the car rolled down the steep hill and crashed into the telephone pole

Recent Examples on the Web

The young man and his mother are suing the Charleston County School District for negligence. Fox News, "Lawsuit: Teacher used grades to coerce student into sex," 24 Sep. 2018 An 8-year-old horse named Justice is taking legal action against his former owner for negligence that left the animal severely underweight and with debilitating injuries, according to court documents. Crystal Hill, miamiherald, "Horse wants $100,000 from its former owner for ‘extreme pain’ and neglect, Oregon lawsuit says | Miami Herald," 3 May 2018 Macchiarini was fired by KI for scientific negligence and has been found guilty of misconduct in more than half a dozen papers. Matt Warren, Science | AAAS, "Two controversial stem cell trials could harm patients, critics say," 29 Mar. 2018 According to Russian news outlets, a criminal investigation has been opened for possible negligence and violation of fire safety requirements. The Washington Post,, "Russian fire's death toll rises to 64, many of them children at shopping mall," 26 Mar. 2018 The train’s driver has been placed under investigation on suspicion of negligence leading to death. Ralph Jennings, The Seattle Times, "Taiwan court: Excessive speed caused deadly train derailment," 23 Oct. 2018 The church has denied related allegations of negligence. Fox News, "Chicago-area megachurch paid $3.25M over child sexual abuse," 15 Aug. 2018 The infractions will be considered initial evidence of negligence in civil court matters. Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times, "Gun owners face fines up to $10,000 for not locking up their guns under new Seattle law," 9 July 2018 Yeshua Ramirez, 20, pleaded no contest to attempted murder and culpable negligence in Osceola County Circuit Court, records say. David Harris,, "Man who left diabetic woman to die gets seven years in prison," 16 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'negligence.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of negligence

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for negligence

Middle English necligence, neglicence, borrowed from Anglo-French, borrowed from Latin neglegentia, neclegentia, from neglegent-, neglegens, necligens negligent + -ia -ia entry 1

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Last Updated

10 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for negligence

The first known use of negligence was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for negligence



English Language Learners Definition of negligence

: failure to take the care that a responsible person usually takes : lack of normal care or attention


neg·​li·​gence | \ˈne-glə-jəns \

Kids Definition of negligence

: failure to take proper or normal care of something or someone


neg·​li·​gence | \ˈne-gli-jəns \

Legal Definition of negligence 

: failure to exercise the degree of care expected of a person of ordinary prudence in like circumstances in protecting others from a foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm in a particular situation also : conduct that reflects this failure

called also ordinary negligence, simple negligence

— compare abuse sense 2, due care, intent

Note: Negligence may render one civilly and sometimes criminally liable for resulting injuries.

collateral negligence

: negligence on the part of an independent contractor that is not connected with a manner of working or risk ordinarily associated with particular work and for which the employer of the contractor is not liable

comparative negligence \kəm-​ˈpar-​ə-​tiv-​ \

1a : negligence of one among multiple parties involved in an injury that is measured (as in percentages) according to the degree of its contribution to the injury the comparative negligence of the plaintiff

b : a doctrine, rule, or method of apportioning liability and damages in tort law: negligence and damages are determined by reference to the proportionate fault of the plaintiff and defendant with the negligence of the plaintiff not constituting an absolute bar to recovery from the defendant — compare contributory negligence in this entry

Note: The great majority of states have replaced the doctrine of contributory negligence with that of comparative negligence.

2 : an affirmative defense alleging comparative negligence by the plaintiff

contributory negligence

1 : negligence on the part of a plaintiff that contributed to the injury at issue

2 : a now largely abolished doctrine in tort law: negligence on the part of a plaintiff that contributed to the injury at issue will bar recovery from the defendant also : an affirmative defense based on this doctrine

criminal negligence

: a gross deviation from the standard of care expected of a reasonable person that is manifest in a failure to protect others from a risk (as of death) deriving from one's conduct and that renders one criminally liable

called also culpable negligence

— compare gross negligence in this entry

gross negligence

: negligence that is marked by conduct that presents an unreasonably high degree of risk to others and by a failure to exercise even the slightest care in protecting them from it and that is sometimes associated with conscious and willful indifference to their rights — see also recklessness — compare criminal negligence in this entry

negligence per se \-​ˌpər-​ˈsā, -​ˈsē \

: negligence that consists of a violation of a statute especially designed to protect the public safety

Note: Recovery may be had on a theory of negligence per se when the harm resulting from the violation is the type that the statute is designed to prevent, the plaintiff is a member of the class of persons sought to be protected by the statute, and the violation is the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.

ordinary negligence
passive negligence

: failure to do something (as to discover a dangerous condition on one's property) that is not a breach of an affirmative duty and that in combination with another's act is a cause of injury

simple negligence
slight negligence

: failure to exercise the great degree of care typical of an extraordinarily prudent person

Note: The category of slight negligence is used much less frequently than ordinary negligence and gross negligence, the other members of a three-level classification that was formerly prevalent.

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