When a person is reckless in terms of personal injury, that person knew or should have acknowledged that their conduct would likely cause harm. This is a greater level of liability than negligence, which is a failure to exercise reasonable care resulting in the injury of another person. In terms of recklessness, the person knowingly takes a risk that their actions will result in harm to the plaintiff (person who was injured or harmed). However, recklessness still carries a lesser level of liability than intentional conduct.

Criminal recklessness refers to the defendant’s (person who caused the injury or harm) state of mind at the time the crime was committed. Thus, in order for a person to be found criminally reckless, that person must know and foresee the risks involved with a particular act. Further, they make a conscious decision to disregard the risks associated with the action, and proceed with the action regardless of the risk. Because of the unwanted dangers presented to people, many state laws and statutes prohibit or criminalize reckless conduct.

Some of the most common examples of conduct that could be considered reckless would include:

  • Drinking and driving (“DUI”);
  • Driving at dangerously high speeds in a residential neighborhood, or an area where there are several pedestrians;
  • Using illegal substances in a public area;
  • Carrying a concealed weapon without a proper license to do so;
  • Storing weapons, toxic substances, or other dangerous items in areas where children may get to them (such as child endangerment);
  • Knowingly engaging in unprotected sexual activities when the person knows that they have a sexually transmitted disease;
  • Illegal use of fireworks; and
  • Engaging in rough play or sports in inappropriate settings, such as a store.

In any recklessness claim, the main factor is that the defendant had knowledge that their conduct was dangerous to those around them. If the defendant was unaware, the court will consider whether the defendant should have known that their actions were dangerous. 

What Are the Elements for Proving Recklessness?

In order to prove that the defendant is guilty of recklessness, the plaintiff will generally need to meet the following elements:

  • The defendant intended to commit the act in question;
  • The defendant knew that such actions would pose a risk of harm;
  • The risk of harm is in itself unreasonable, and greater than negligent action; and
  • The defendant knew, or had reason to know, that others could be present and directly in harm’s way

The specific details may vary state by state. Additionally, recklessness does differ from intentional harm in many significant ways. The most significant difference is that in a recklessness case, the defendant may not have intended to cause the harm that resulted from their actions, although they were aware of the dangerous risks. In an intentional harm case, the defendant actually intended for the other person to be harmed and injured by their actions.

What Are the Legal Consequences for Recklessness?

Recklessness is often the basis for personal injury lawsuits. Victims of recklessness are tasked with documenting the extent of their injuries. This is because personal injury claims require proof of injury before any compensation may be awarded. This could take the form of medical records, doctor’s notes, photos, the names and information of any witnesses, and insurance documents.

Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits such as recklessness are most commonly awarded compensatory damages. These damages can be general, which compensate for the injury itself. The amount of general damages awarded is dependant upon:

  • The severity of the injuries;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Future medical prognosis; and 
  • Any pre-existing injuries.

Another type of damage is specific. Specific damages are also called special damages and compensate for quantifiable monetary loss that results from the injury. These damages cover past and future lost wages, medical bills, and other costs. In order to determine a specific damages award, the court will consider:

  • The amount of medical bills;
  • How the injuries have affected the plaintiff’s ability to work; and
  • How the injuries have affected the plaintiff’s lifestyle.

The defendant will have to pay these damages, and in some cases, they may also be subject to criminal charges. They could face more strict consequences for reckless conduct than negligence. Additionally, those who would commonly be granted immunity may not be immune from a recklessness charge. An example of this would be health care professionals who would normally be immune to a negligence lawsuit could still be held liable if they are found to be reckless.

Do I Need an Attorney for Recklessness?

Recklessness is taken very seriously by the court system. This is due to the fact that public policy discourages putting innocent bystanders in harm’s way. You should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney if you are in any way involved with a recklessness claim. 

If you are the defendant, an experienced attorney can determine if there are any defenses available to your case. If you are the plaintiff, an attorney can help you gather evidence and documentation supporting your claim, and file a lawsuit on your behalf. Finally, they can represent you in a court of law as needed.