“Reckless conduct” is a phrase used to describe a type of behavior in negligence lawsuits. Reckless conduct is any behavior where the defendant knew or should have known that their actions would harm another person. Reckless conduct is often characterized by a lack of concern for the safety of others. Determining whether a person’s conduct is “reckless” depends on their state of mind when 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 drives over a curb, 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 more dangerous actions 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 involves showing that the defendant knew of the danger involved. Courts will generally consider various factors, such as social standards regarding the conduct in question and 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 award damages to a plaintiff if they prevail in court. 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. Punitive damages are 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 to know and appreciate the risk at hand.
In contrast, criminal negligence occurs when a defendant should have been aware of the risk but perhaps wasn’t. 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 or lengthy prison terms. Felony charges typically leave felons on 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 decides to drive while intoxicated exhibits reckless conduct that can result in criminal charges.
Reckless driving is not limited to drunk driving cases and can occur even when a driver is sober.
What Are the Legal Implications of Reckless Conduct?
People who are charged with reckless conduct may face criminal prosecution. Depending on the nature of the crime, reckless conduct can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. Reckless conduct is often seen in the context of driving, and depending on the seriousness of the accident, can lead to a variety of punishments. If a driver gets into his car with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit and hits another car, injuring the passenger, the fact that they made the choice to drive after drinking will raise their culpability from negligence to recklessness, no matter the other circumstances. A person can be guilty of reckless driving when they are sober, too.
Many states consider any intentional violation of the rules of the road to be reckless conduct. License suspension is one consequence of reckless driving. Depending on how badly the victim was injured or how reckless the guilty party was, they might face fines or jail time. If the reckless conduct is charged as a misdemeanor, the guilty party will not have to spend more than a year in jail. In more serious cases, when there is an extreme gross disregard for human life, reckless conduct can be charged as a felony. The guilty party can spend years in jail and pay thousands of dollars in fines.
Reckless Conduct in Civil Lawsuits
Reckless conduct may result in having to pay monetary damages. For example, if you injure someone while driving recklessly, you are not only faced with a criminal lawsuit. You may also be looking at a civil suit. In civil suits, reckless conduct can mean being liable for compensatory damages, including lost wages, medical bills, rehabilitation, and payment for any permanent injury or pain and suffering. A plaintiff injured by reckless behavior may also be awarded punitive damages by the court to punish the party who behaved recklessly and deter them and the rest of society from doing it again.
If you have been charged criminally or civilly for reckless conduct, you should contact a criminal defense attorney, a personal injury attorney, or both. Because the legal implications of reckless conduct can be serious and life-altering, it is wise to have an experienced attorney on your side who knows the law and will protect your rights.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Reckless Conduct Charges?
Reckless conduct cases can be more complicated than they initially appear and are often very serious. 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 face 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.