Negligence

Insurance is not rocket science. In this glossary article, we explain everything you need to know about negligence.

What does negligence mean?

In a nutshell, negligence means acting inattentively in a situation. However, it is also referred to as a form of fault, i.e. a type of behaviour that can make you guilty.

The definition of negligence is laid down in the German Civil Code (§ 276 BGB). According to this, someone acts negligently who “disregards the necessary care”.

It is precisely in moments when we are distracted and not particularly careful that minor or major mishaps occur. Then it is decisive for an insurance company whether the person who caused the damage was negligent or not. Because if damage is caused by negligence, many insurance companies will not pay for it.

This is assessed objectively. It is considered whether the person in question would’ve had the opportunity to behave differently: in such a way that no negative consequences could’ve been expected. If the person then decides not to do so and instead acts carelessly, they consciously take the risk and thus act negligently.

How does negligence differ from intent?

Unlike intent, negligence is not about someone intentionally causing harm. However, the careless behaviour of the person concerned directly contributes to the damage occurring. Thus, despite the lack of intent, they are responsible for it.

What is the difference between simple and gross negligence?

Before an insurance company decides whether or not to cover the costs of a claim, it checks whether there is simple or gross negligence involved. These two terms are not precisely defined by law, but the following distinction is generally made:

  • Simple negligence: A spontaneous behaviour that can be compared to a brief inattention.
  • Gross negligence: A reckless behaviour in which caution and care are clearly neglected.

Does your insurance cover you despite negligence?

It can always happen that we’re inattentive for a short while. For damages that occur in such moments, you are well covered with liability insurance. In most cases, it will even cover gross negligence.

The situation is similar with motor vehicle liability insurance. To begin with, every injured party is entitled to compensation. For this reason, the insurance company of the person who caused the damage may not refuse to pay.

Some insurance companies, however, demand that the person who caused the accident contribute to the costs of the accident in cases of gross negligence. This happens, for example, if you are on your mobile phone while driving and an accident occurs as a result. To be on the safe side, you should take a look at your documents. These usually state in which cases you are covered and in which cases you are not.

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