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Gross negligence means conduct or a failure to act that is so reckless that it demonstrates a substantial lack of concern for whether an injury will result. It is sometimes necessary to establish "gross negligence" as opposed to "ordinary negligence" in order to overcome a legal impediment to a lawsuit. For example, a government employee who is on the job may be immune from liability for ordinary negligence, but may remain liable for gross negligence.

Similarly, where a plaintiff signs a release (as may be required, for example, before entering a sports competition), for public policy reasons many jurisdictions will apply the release only to conduct which constitutes "ordinary negligence" and not to acts of "gross negligence". The reason for this is quite simple: It is not good public policy to allow a defendant to escape liability for reckless indifference to the safety of others, particularly in contexts where the defendant is responsible for creating unsafe conditions, or is profiting from their existence. Consider, for example, a commercial venture engaged in a high risk recreational activity, such as a company that offers rock climbing tours. If a tour member is injured when safety equipment provided by the company unexpectedly fails, a valid release may protect the company from a lawsuit. However, if the company knows up front that the equipment is defective and uses it anyway, it would not be protected by the release.

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