It goes without saying that humans aren’t infallible. As Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human.” We are imperfect beings that make mistakes; sometimes we’re at fault, and in other instances, it’s simply the result of misfortune. This is one reason why insurance exists—to help protect you from liability should any errors or mishaps occur.

A problem that many run into is that there are legal and insurance cases where deciding who’s at fault isn’t obvious. This is particularly true in negligence cases, which are subjective and have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

But what does negligence mean and how does it impact your insurance? Read on to discover more.

What is negligence?

Negligence is a phrase that pertains to several different types of insurance cases including:

  • Business
  • Home Life
  • Auto
  • Health

It’s defined as “failure to act or take proper care in a manner that a normal person would when faced with a similar situation or circumstances.” By analogy, if an item in your house caught fire, a reasonable person would at least attempt to put it out. But, if you simply stood there without trying to stop it and then proceeded to let the rest of the house catch fire without even calling 911, your insurance company might decide to not provide financial compensation. claiming you were negligent because you didn’t attempt to prevent further damage.

All that said, if there was no way to safely fight the fire or if it spread rapidly beyond your control, the insurance company may have less of an argument, since your contract states that you should take “reasonable measures.”

Negligence in business

Similarly, in business, for a client, customer, or insurance company to make a claim that you were negligent, they’d have to prove it. As such, that would have to satisfy certain conditions, including:


Speaking in vague terms, some sort of obligation existed between the client and business. If you were hired as a smart home installer, they couldn’t sue you in court for negligence for not handling the electrical problem they had; however, if you didn’t complete the job or you did it poorly, which then led to the homeowners getting locked out of their own home, they could claim that they paid and so you had a duty to complete the job correctly.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re a licensed professional, you are expected to be well versed (have a duty) on issues within your field—namely, laws, best practices, and safety precautions.


In a court of law, it’s not enough to simply prove that a duty was owed, it also must be demonstrated that the negligent party breached that duty. Basically, it means that they didn’t take the “reasonable care” or necessary precautions to minimize or prevent the problem.

In order to prove this, the victim has to demonstrate that shortcuts or ill-advised actions were taken. Sometimes this may be obvious, particularly if laws were violated, but at other times it is more subjective and left to the judge or jury to determine.

So, in the case of the smart home installer, if they tried to save time by not thoroughly setting up the Bluetooth connectivity and confirming it was in working order, that would be a clear breach since it’s one of the essential steps of their job.

Cause in the fact

Also known as causation, the victim has to prove that the actions taken by the “negligent party” were the actual cause of damages or injury. This is sometimes referred to as “but-for” causation, meaning that, but-for their actions, no damages would have occurred.

Returning to our smart home installer, the client must prove that they were locked out for the night, due solely because of the installer’s poor-quality job.

Proximate cause

This is an important aspect that pertains to the scope of the defendant’s responsibility. Proximate cause requires that negligence is only related to the harm or damages that the party could have foreseen because of their actions, or lack of.

So, our smart home installer might be able to foresee this locked-out issue, but they couldn’t be held responsible for the party getting in a car accident on the way to a nearby hotel to spend the night. Although unfortunate, the car accident would be beyond the scope of their responsibility.


Finally, it’s essential to prove that there was actual harm done, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or financial.

Types of negligence

In terms of legality and liability, there are several different types of negligence. Naturally, your defense in a lawsuit for a personal injury negligence claim will be quite different from a professional negligence claim that resulted in property damage (as in the case of our smart home installer). These are among the more common types of negligence:

Gross negligence

The failure to act was so careless or intentional that it demonstrated a complete and total lack of concern for the client’s safety. Legally, this is much more serious and can result in jail time if found guilty. An example would be a doctor amputating the wrong limb or a caregiver not giving an elderly person food or water for several days.

Comparative negligence

Comparative negligence occurs when both parties are slightly at fault or contributed to their damages and injuries. As a result, the damages are split between the two (to some degree).

For example, imagine a situation where you’re driving your company car and you hit a pedestrian at night. You clearly had a green light and the pedestrian had a don’t walk signal, but little did you know, you also had one headlight out. Thus, while the pedestrian shouldn’t have been walking, you had less-than-ideal visibility. In this case, both parties could be made to share fault.

Contributory negligence

Although this isn’t commonly employed anymore, in such negligence cases, if the plaintiff contributed in any way to their own damages or injury, they’re unable to collect compensation for damages.

Professional negligence

This is tied specifically to a business relationship. Typically, it involves a customer that depends upon the professional to lend them their advice, expertise, or skills to complete a task. However, the professional fails to live up to that or provides input that results in financial loss.

Why you need insurance?

Fair or not, a negligence lawsuit can lead to a large expense. This is why it’s important for a business to have general liability insurance and professional liability insurance. Such policies can protect you from negligence claims by paying for the legal defenses and the damages should you be found guilty.

Do you have insurance? If not, fortunately, there’s Thimble.

Thimble is on-demand, small business insurance that you can turn on for an hour, a day, a week, or a month, and then turn off the moment you don’t need it. It’s insurance that works when you do.

You never know when your next gig will be, and just like your workday, incidents of negligence are also hard to anticipate. But, when you use Thimble, you can go from being completely exposed to being protected in under a minute. Download Thimble, get a quote, and get a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in seconds.

Don’t neglect your own success.