Negligence is a familiar concept in English law but what does the term “gross negligence” mean in a contract? In Camarata Property Inc v Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd the court had to find an answer, in interpreting an exclusion clause in an agreement for investment advisory services.

The term “gross negligence”, although found in commercial documents, has not previously been accepted by English law in civil cases as a concept distinct from simple negligence. In Camarata the court therefore had to interpret the meaning of “gross negligence” in the agreement in question. It said that the distinction between gross negligence and mere negligence is not easy to define, or even to describe, with any precision; it is one of degree, and not of kind. As a court had previously noted, “gross” negligence is, however, clearly intended to represent something more fundamental than failure to exercise proper skill and/or care constituting negligence. As a matter of ordinary language and general impression, the court found that the concept of gross negligence was capable of including not only conduct undertaken with actual appreciation of the risks involved, but also serious disregard of, or indifference to, an obvious risk. See: Camarata Property Inc v Credit Suisse Securities (Europe) Ltd [2011] EWHC 479 (Comm)