The Mental State Of “Negligence” In New York Personal Injury Cases

I came across this lawyer advertising billboard on the web and couldn’t convince myself NOT to post it on my blog. So now I have to justify posting it. I am going to somehow tie this sign into New York personal injury stuff. Just wait and see!

When you think about it, the sign is not just funny, or a sad statement about sleazy lawyering, it is actually true. You may have done the act you are accused of doing, but nevertheless be “not guilty” of the crime for a variety of reasons. For example, Bob Marley may have shot the sheriff, but if it was in self-defense (or if he was insane, or if the gun went off by mistake) there may be no “crime”.

When deciding whether a defendant committed a “crime”, the law looks not only WHAT he did but WHY he did it. What was going on in his head as he did the act? That’s what lawyers call “the mens rea“, i.e., the mental state. If the defendant kills someone deliberately with premeditation, that’s a more serious crime than if it was just careless. And if it was in self-defense, then it was no crime at all.

Ready? Here comes the tie-in to New York personal injury law: The concept of “negligence” – the heart of most personal injury law cases — also looks into the defendant’s state of mind. Was he trying to be careful? Was he looking out for the safety of others? If so he was not “negligent”, no matter the harm he may have caused.

For example, if a motorist crosses over into the oncoming lane of traffic and crashes into an oncoming vehicle, that is normally “negligence” because he was careless. If, however, he crossed over to avoid a deer that jumped in front of him and he had only a split second to make that decision, a jury might find he was not “negligent”, and therefore is not liable. That’s because his mental state was different in each instance.

On the other hand, if the motorist was racing and crossed over to pass another vehicle at break-neck speed, his state of mind could be found to cross over from mere “negligence” into the mental land of “recklessness”. That means he was mentally indifferent or wanton or deliberate in putting the public at great risk. This is also called “gross negligence“. In New York personal injury law, the jury can award a victim of gross negligence not only compensatory damages, but also punitive damages (make him pay additional money beyond what it takes to compensate the victim in order to punish the offender).

So there you go. Do you agree I have fully justified posting this crazy lawyer billboard? Hope so.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani
Email me at: I’d love to hear from you!

Michael G. Bersani, Esq. Central & Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels Bersani Kalabanka


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