“Reckless conduct” is a phrase used to describe a type of behavior that comes up in negligence lawsuits. Reckless conduct is any type of behavior where the defendant knew or should have known that their actions would harm another person. It is often characterized by a lack of concern for the safety of others. Determining whether a person’s conduct is “reckless” is dependent on their state of mind at the time that the harm or injury occurred.

In cases based on a person’s reckless conduct or recklessness, the plaintiff must show that the defendant:

  • Intended to commit the act that caused the plaintiff’s injury;
  • Knew, or had good reason to know, that the act would present a risk of injury;
  • Knew that others might be present and in harm’s way.

The behavior itself also needs to be unreasonable, and of greater risk than regular negligent conduct. For example, a driver who jumps a curb, drives down a busy sidewalk, and injures a pedestrian can be held liable for their reckless conduct.

What are Some Typical Forms of Reckless Conduct?

Reckless conduct usually involves actions that are more dangerous than those in typical negligence cases. Some examples of common instances of reckless conduct can include:

  • Reckless driving or driving without regard for traffic laws. Speeding, drunk driving, and failing to yield to oncoming traffic are all examples.
  • Unauthorized use of or carrying a dangerous weapon (such as a firearm).
  • Illegal use of fireworks, especially near children.
  • Intentional mishandling or abuse of toxic substances.
  • Engaging in rough horseplay or sports in inappropriate areas (such as a crowded shopping center).

Part of proving that a defendant’s behavior was elevated to the point of recklessness is showing that the defendant knew of the danger involved. Courts will generally consider various factors, such as social standards regarding the conduct in question as well as the defendant’s background and experience.

What are the Legal Consequences for Reckless Conduct?

Reckless conduct is often a factor in civil negligence cases, and can lead to an award of damages to a plaintiff if they prevail in court. This means that a defendant can be required to pay victims for their losses due to reckless conduct, including medical bills, lost wages, court costs, pain and suffering costs, and other expenses. A plaintiff may also be awarded punitive damages in cases of reckless conduct, intended to punish the defendant for their behavior and serve as a deterrent against future reckless conduct.

In most cases, simple negligence results in accidents, which aren’t necessarily criminal offenses. However, when negligence rises to the level of recklessness, it can become so serious that the behavior raises criminal charges. Some courts draw a line between criminal negligence and recklessness; reasoning that recklessness requires the defendant actually knew and appreciated the risk at hand, while criminal negligence occurs when a defendant should have been aware of the risk (but perhaps wasn’t). However, whether the behavior is categorized as criminal negligence or reckless conduct, the consequences for the underlying actions can still be serious.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, reckless conduct can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. In the cases of misdemeanors, criminal punishments can involve fines and jail time for less than a year. In more serious cases of reckless conduct, where the defendant shows a reckless disregard for human life, felony charges can result in much heavier fines, lengthy prison terms, and perhaps probation if or when they are released from prison.

Reckless conduct is commonly seen in the context of automobile accidents and drunk driving cases. If a person drives a car while their blood alcohol level is over the legal limit, and an accident occurs that injures a passenger, the driver’s choice to drive while intoxicated will rise above common negligence to reckless conduct. A defendant with multiple DUI convictions who still makes the choice to drive while intoxicated exhibits reckless conduct that can result in criminal charges, as well. 

Reckless driving, however, is not limited to drunk driving cases, and can occur even when a driver is sober. An example of this is where the driver jumps the curb and drives down a busy sidewalk.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Reckless Conduct Charges?

Reckless conduct can be more complicated than it initially appears, and is often involved in some serious cases. If you are facing a lawsuit for someone else’s injury, or if you have been injured due to another person’s reckless conduct, it is in your best interest to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. If you are facing criminal charges for reckless conduct, you should contact a criminal defense attorney right away.

The right lawyer can talk you through the facts of your situation, advise you on the best way to proceed, protect your rights in the case, and explain how your state laws factor into the circumstances of your case. A lawyer can also help you by filing the appropriate paperwork and representing you in court if necessary.