Analysis of Criminal Negligence

Criminal negligence is also known as culpable negligence. It actually refers to conduct in which a person neglects a known or obvious risk or disregards the life and safety of other people. Criminal negligence is also described as a form of recklessness, where one person acts significantly different than an ordinary person under similar circumstances. Criminally negligent people don’t care about the consequences of their actions. It can again be seen as putting individuals’ life or body in harm’s way by meaningfully disobeying a statute or law that is in place to protect people. For example, Russ knew he shouldn’t be shooting a gun in his yard, and he was intentionally breaking the law. Was he acting in a criminally negligent manner? Yes.

To constitute a crime there must be an Actus Reus accompanied by mens rea. Negligence shows the least level of culpability, the intention being the most serious and recklessness being of intermediate seriousness, overlapping with gross negligence. The degree of culpability is determined by applying a reasonable person standard. Criminal negligence becomes “gross” when the failure to foresee involves a “wanton disregard for human life”. The test of men’s rea element is always based on an assessment of whether the accused had foresight of the prohibited consequences and desired to cause those consequences to occur. The three types of tests are:

  • Subjective where the court attempts to establish what the accused was actually thinking at the time the Actus Reus was caused ;
  • Objective where the court imputes mens rea elements on the basis that a reasonable person with the same general knowledge and abilities as accused would have had those elements.
  • Hybrid, I.e. the test is both subjective and objective.

The most culpable men’s rea elements will have both foresight and desire on a subjective basis. Negligence arises when on a subjective test an accused has not actually foreseen the potentially adverse consequences to planned actions and has gone ahead, exposing a particular individual or unknown victim to the risk of suffering injury or loss. The accused is a social danger because they have endangered the safety of the other in circumstances where the reasonable person would have foreseen the injury and taken preventive measures. Hence, the test is hybrid.

Difference between criminal negligence and civil negligence.

Criminal negligence is often contrasted with civil negligence. Criminal negligence is different from civil negligence. The latter is actually something that a plaintiff must prove in a civil case involving a personal injury. Civil negligence refers to the conduct that falls below an appropriate level of care. If proven, an injured plaintiff can recover damages from the defendant for any injuries the defendant caused. Civil negligence is :

  • Just short of reasonableness
  • Is not a drastic departure from how a reasonable person would act.

These two also differs in term of:

  • Level of proof – Civil negligence is proven in a civil case involving personal injury. A plaintiff must prove negligence by a “preponderance of the evidence” this means showing that it was more likely than not that the defendant acted negligently. Criminal negligence is proven in criminal cases. A prosecutor must prove that the defendants are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
  • Punishment –  In civil cases, the defendant has to pay damages. This money is paid to the plaintiff to compensate that party for any injuries. In criminal cases, parties guilty of negligence can go to the county jail. Or they can be punished with:
  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Community services

Elements of negligence

  1. Duty– A duty is simply a legal obligation. In order to be sued for Negligence, the Defendant must have owed a duty to the Plaintiff.
  2. Breach – Once you have determined the existence of a duty, you must determine whether or not the defendant has breached his duty. A defendant can breach his the duty both by acting in a certain manner or by failing to act in a certain manner. That is to say, a defendant can breach his duty either by acting in a manner that violates the reasonable man test or by not acting in a situation where he is legally required to act.
  3. Cause- Once you have demonstrated that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff and that the defendant breached that duty, you must show that the breach was both the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s harm.
  4. Harm- Finally, you must show the plaintiff suffered harm as a result of the defendant’s breach. If a plaintiff does not suffer harm, he can not sue for negligence.

Death by Negligence under Section 304

Section 304 i.e. causing death by negligence :

“ Whoever causes the death of any person doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend  2 years.”

Essential ingredients

  • There must be the death of the person in question.
  • The death must be caused by the accused.
  • The death must be caused by a rash or negligent act.
  • The act of the accused must not amount to culpable homicide.
  • Difference between “rash” and “Negligent” Act.
  • The rash act basically is the act done in a hurry without any rational or proper thinking.
  • Negligent act refers to a breach of a duty imposed by law or state.
  • Death should be the direct result
  • An act to fall under this section, the death must be the direct result caused by a rash or negligent act.
  • The principle of the immediate cause or last link of the chain applies.
  • Rash or negligent driving
  • Every year the count of road accidents increases rapidly. A major reason behind these accidents are rash and negligent driving.
  • In an act of rash and negligent driving, the factor of knowledge and intention of the accused should not be present at that very time.

Medical Negligence

Doctors can be held liable for medical negligence under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, Law of torts, and IPC, 1860.

The cases of medical negligence are increasing every year due to which thousands are people are affected because of the negligent act of the doctors or the medical staff.

Essentials of medical negligence are follows:

  • Duty to take care of the party
  • There is a breach of duty of care.
  • The other party suffered a legal injury due to a breach of duty.

Landmark cases:

Bala Chandra vs. the State of Maharashtra 1968 AIR 1319:  

In this case, criminal negligence is defined as complete or partial negligence or failure in exercising reasonable and proper care and precaution in protecting any particular person or the public in general, which would have been the essential duty of the accused keeping in mind the circumstances.

Cherubin Gregory vs. the State of Bihar:  

In this case, a neighbor started using the washroom of the accused. The accused objected but despite she carried on using his washroom. One day the accused placed naked wire carrying electricity at the entrance of the washroom and the lady touched the wire and died. Here the accused was held liable for rash act.

Sarabjeet Singh vs. State of utter Pradesh AIR 1983 SC 529:

In this case, the question of intention was raised on the accused. The accused lifted a child and threw him on the ground which resulted in the death of the child. It was eventually found that though his intentions were not here, knowledge was there, and thus he was not held liable under section-304.

Suleiman Rehman Mulani vs. the State of Maharashtra 1968 AIR 829:

In this case, a person driving a meet hit a person. He took him to a doctor but he refused to give treatment and directed him to go to some other place. But the accused took him to some other place and he died. It was found that though the accused was negligent as he had learning license and was driving without a person having a license, but it was held that hitting by the vehicle of the accused was not that direct consequence of the death of the person in question and hence accused cannot be held liable under section-304.

Jadish Chander vs state 1973 AIR 2127:

In this case, the accused was driving a scooter and suddenly he took a right without looking in his mirror and a truck was coming and he lost his control. He crashed and minor injuries were caused to the lady and some major injuries to the child. The court considered the act as rash and negligent as he took the turn without looking in the mirror paying attention and his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.



  1. What is criminal negligence?
  2. State the difference between criminal and civil negligence.
  3. What is the punishment given for criminal negligence?
  4. Define death by negligence.
  5. State relating case laws.

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