When a person is reckless in terms of personal injury, that person knew or should have acknowledged that their conduct would likely cause harm. “Reckless” is a greater level of liability than negligence. Negligence is a failure to exercise reasonable care resulting in the injury of another person.

In terms of recklessness, the person knowingly risks that their actions will harm the plaintiff. A plaintiff is a 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 state of mind at the time the crime was committed. A defendant is a person who caused the injury or harm. For a person to be found criminally reckless, that person must know and foresee the risks involved with a particular act.

Further, the person makes a conscious decision to disregard the risks associated with the action and proceeds 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 (can also be charged 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 knew that their conduct was dangerous to those around them. If the defendant was unaware, the court will consider whether they should have known that their actions were dangerous.

What Are the Elements for Proving Recklessness?

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 the defendant may not have intended to cause the harm that resulted from their actions in a reckless case, although they were aware of the dangerous risks. In an intentional harm case, the defendant intended the other person to be harmed and injured by their actions.

What Are Examples of Recklessness?

Recklessness is a state of mind that is determined both subjectively and objectively. There are two types of reckless behavior. The subjective test for reckless behavior looks at what the actor knew or was believed to have been thinking when the act occurred. The objective test considers what a reasonable person would have thought in the defendant’s position. In both situations, the issue turns on conscious awareness, or whether the person knew or should have known their actions may cause harm to another.

For example, it is reckless for a driver to intentionally cross a highway while ignoring a stop sign if a stream of traffic is closely approaching in both directions. On the other hand, a driver’s failure to stop because their attention is diverted and they do not know that they are approaching the crossing would be negligent.

Other examples of behaviors considered reckless include:

  • Drinking and driving at any time
  • Drag racing in a residential neighborhood
  • Substance use at a nightclub or other public area
  • Carrying a concealed weapon
  • Storing a gun in an unlocked box in a home where children are frequently present
  • Engaging in unprotected sex when you have a known venereal disease, including AIDS/HIV

How Does Recklessness Differ from Negligence?

Generally, an actor’s conduct is reckless if:

  • The actor intends to commit the act in question, knowing it may create a risk of harm
  • The risk itself is an unreasonable one
  • The risk is substantially greater than negligent conduct
  • The actor knows or has reason to believe that others are present and in harm’s way

Recklessness differs from negligence. Negligence consists mainly of carelessness or incompetence. Recklessness requires the conscious choice to take a particular course of action. Recklessness requires a further degree of risk on the actor’s part than does negligence.

Reckless misconduct differs from intentional wrongdoing. Under recklessness, the actor intends to commit the act but does not intend to cause harm to others. Instead, the actor may wish that the harm does not happen, but he has a strong reason to believe that it might.

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. Personal injury claims require proof of injury before any compensation may be awarded. Proof of injury could take the form of medical records, doctor’s notes, photos, the names and information of any witnesses, and insurance documents.

In personal injury lawsuits such as recklessness, plaintiffs are most commonly awarded compensatory damages. These damages can be general, which compensates for the injury itself. The amount of general damages awarded is dependent 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 the quantifiable monetary loss that results from the injury. These damages cover past and future lost wages, medical bills, and other costs. 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, may also be subject to criminal charges. Defendants could face more strict consequences for reckless conduct than negligence. Those who would commonly be granted immunity may not be immune from a recklessness charge. Health care professionals who would normally be immune to a negligence lawsuit could still be held liable if they are reckless.

Do I Need an Attorney for Recklessness?

The court system takes recklessness very seriously because 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 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. An attorney can represent you in a court of law as needed.

Use LegalMatch to find the right attorney for your case today. There is no fee to schedule a consultation. Our services are entirely confidential.