Recklessness and Negligence in Personal Injury Law – Part 1: Recklessness

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When someone’s conduct becomes so reckless it warrants litigation be brought against the person, he or she become what’s known colloquially as “liable”. This means he or she is responsible for injuries another person sustained due to a reckless act in which they engaged. Under the law there are four basic principles of liability: intent, recklessness, negligence, and strict liability. Depending on what form of litigation is pursued (mediation or trial), any number of these principles can leave the reckless party liable for pain and suffering caused by their actions.

This writeup will delve into the four basic principles of liability and the basis for which a civil case involving recklessness becomes grounded. The most important thing to understand are the four principles of liability. If these standards are not met, the case may be dismissed by the judge and the defendant may not be held liable for their actions.

We’ll answer the following questions:

  • What are the four principles of liability?
  • Is it recklessness or negligence?
  • What acts are considered recklessness in Personal Injury Law?
  • An example scenario involving recklessness
  • What constitutes recklessness under the law?

What are the four principles of liability?

  • Intent: this can also be referred to as “willfulness” and is defined as the person being accused intentional causing harm to another human being.
  • Recklessness: the basis for this article and, implies the person knew (or at the very least should have been aware of) that his or her actions were likely to cause harm to another.
  • Negligence: as discussed in previous articles, it’s important to reiterate that this is defined as a person or persons acting in a way that is a violation of their duty to another, and with the breach of said duty they’ve caused harm, injury, or death.
  • Strict liability: this, under the law, is reserved for cases where a defendant can be held liable for injury or accident caused regardless of their mental state.

Is it recklessness or negligence?

Recklessness itself involves a lack of conduct to such a level that is short of actual intent to cause harm but exceeds negligence. When it comes to negligence, it’s defined under the law as occurring when a person unknowingly takes a risk. Recklessness is the opposite: the party involved in the harmful actions was aware of the risk being taken and acted regardless of the consequences.

What acts are considered recklessness in Personal Injury Law?

When it comes to proving recklessness, it’s determined both subjectively and objectively. This is something that doesn’t differ under the law. Recklessness is always due to a person or persons taking a known risk regardless of the outcome it could have on another human being. The definition doesn’t change even when the circumstances differ. Remember, every personal injury case is unique, and the circumstances are never the same twice. However, recklessness holds the same definition under the law.

Let’s review the steps that are used to prove recklessness:

  1. Looking at what the defendant knew or is believed to have known when the injurious act initially occurred. This is considered subjective.
  2. Considering what a reasonable person in that same such scenario would have been thinking if he or she were in the same situation as the defendant was. This is considered objective.
  3. Both subjective and objective tests rely on a line of thinking known as “conscious awareness”; this means whether the defendant knew or should have known his or her actions may be the cause of injury to another person.

An example of a scenario involving recklessness

In this example we’ll consider a defendant being accused of reckless driving:

Driver A sees the posted speed limit as they approach a residential neighborhood but is in a hurry to get to work. Driver A knowingly exceeds the speed limit by more than 25mph knowing they could cause a traffic accident.

They read the posted signs and are aware of the rules of the road within a residential neighborhood as they drive through this area on a daily basis. Today they are late and ignore the rules of the road, sideswiping Person B who was going the posted speed limit.

Driver B suffers a concussion as well as broken bones and has to take excessive time off work to recover from the accident. Driver A would now be said to have committed an act of recklessness, as they knew the consequences of speeding and were also cognizant of the speed limit but chose to ignore it in favor of getting to their destination more quickly. Because of Driver A‘s knowledge that their actions could cause harm, Driver B now has the legal right to sue Driver A by retaining a Personal Injury lawyer and seeking damages for their totaled vehicle and their pain and suffering.

Other possible examples of knowingly risky behaviors

Below are a few more examples of behaviors that could be considered risky or reckless:

  • Drinking and driving
  • Texting while driving
  • Use of illicit substances in public or to an excess of which causes serious impairment
  • A concealed weapon without proper licensure and training of the weapon’s proper handling
  • The storage of a firearm, unlocked in a home where children live or are present often

What constitutes recklessness under the law?

This is a question that should be answered thoroughly. There are several instances in which it becomes clear the defendant was acting in such a way that their behavior is considered not negligent, but reckless:

  • The defendant committed the act–speeding for example– knowing it may cause a car accident, and therefore cause another driver to sustain serious and even life-threatening injuries because of it.
  • The risk is deemed unreasonable (i.e. answering a text message while driving instead of waiting until the car is parked in a parking lot or the driver arrives home).
  • The risk can be considered excessively greater than an act that would be considered negligent
  • The defendant knew or had reason to believe that other human beings present could be harmed if they acted, but chose to act anyway.

In part 2 of this writeup, we’ll look at the principle of negligence and how such acts differ from acts of recklessness under the law in regard to Personal Injury.

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