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What is criminal negligence?

Criminal negligence is the failure on the part of a person on whom a duty is placed to take reasonable steps to prevent a certain bad outcome from happening. Duties may or may not be specifically known to you. For instance, as a driver, you have a duty not to hurt others with your vehicle. You may or may not have known that.

Other examples of people who have duties to others include: parents owing a protective duty to their children, or employers/supervisors at work owing a duty to their workers.

Police lay criminal negligence charges when a negative consequence has happened (injury or death) and the accused is believed to have omitted to take steps to prevent that negative consequence.

There are two main forms of criminal negligence: causing bodily harm and causing death.

Examples of criminal negligence


One parent is routinely physically abusive to the child(ren) causing them injuries and the other parent knows this is happening and does nothing to protect the children.


You and some friends are goofing around with a truck, doing donuts in a parking lot. You are driving and one friend is in the open cargo area and is thrown out of the vehicle and sustains serious brain damage.


You are responsible for supervising workers. You permit workers to go up on a scaffold knowing that there are insufficient restraints to prevent falling. You know it’s unlikely that anything bad will happen. The worker has been drinking that day during lunch and then returns to work and falls off the scaffold and dies.

How to defend criminal negligence

Defending criminal negligence charges centers around determining whether the accused’s conduct was the result of momentary inattention (for which no foresight of the consequence was reasonable) or was, in fact, partly foreseen by awareness of the risk and proceeding despite that awareness.

There may also be argument to suggest that intervening events (that could not be foreseen) caused the injury or death. Lastly, there may be attempts to demonstrate that the accused’s behaviour was not wanton or reckless and did not represent a marked departure from what we would expect.