What Is the Difference Between Negligence and Recklessness?

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While many personal injury accidents are the result of a simple mistake, others are caused by extreme indifference to the safety of others. At the moment of an accident and for a short time after, the cause does not matter too much. Instead, your safety and well-being should be a priority. But once everyone is safe, the cause begins to matter rather quickly.

Negligence and recklessness sound like synonyms and are often used to describe a wrongdoer’s actions that result in injury or damage. These two terms often get confused for one another but in the legal world, they are quite different. While both may be charged both civilly and criminally, it is important to visit with an experienced personal injury attorney to help you determine how your specific case should be filed to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you believe that someone else’s conduct led to your car accident or another type of personal injury, it is important to understand the difference between negligence and recklessness.

Let’s take a closer look at what negligence and recklessness actually mean in California.

Negligence vs. Recklessness

The legal concepts of negligence and recklessness are found in both criminal and civil law. Pursuing compensation for damages from your accident is a civil matter between private parties. On the other hand, the state is responsible for bringing any criminal charges related to an accident or incident.

The Distinction of Intent

The truth of the matter is, from a judge and jury’s point of view, there actually is a difference, and it is a very important one. What separates negligence from recklessness is the intent of the person committing the act. In many ways, negligence is considered the less “serious” of the two, though both can have very severe consequences, up to and including injury, or even wrongful death.

Negligence is the more formal, legal recognition of carelessness. It refers to the failure to take proper and reasonable care, causing injury or loss to another person. When accidents occur due to negligence, it simply means that the person who had a legal obligation to maintain certain safety protocols did not do it. There was no malicious intent.

Recklessness, on the other hand, is considered a more serious charge in court. Recklessness means that there is a more malicious intent at work. Recklessness is the state of mind where a person deliberately pursues a course of action while consciously disregarding any risks stemming from such action.


What is Negligence

Someone acts negligently when they have behaved in a manner where they should have known there was a risk that some harm might occur. The person acting negligently does not have to know with certainty that the actions will cause harm, only that the possibility exists. People owe others a duty to drive safely and follow the rules of the road. If someone fails to look both ways before pulling into a busy intersection and causes an accident, that is negligence.

Negligence can be a difficult legal area to define since it involves establishing and analyzing the elements of negligence of a particular case. According to most jurisdictions, there are four elements of negligence.

  • Duty – the defendant has a duty to others to exercise reasonable care
  • Breach – the defendant breaches the above duty through an act or culpable omission
  • Damages – the plaintiff (accuser) has suffered an injury or loss due to the defendant’s act or failure to act
  • Causation – injury or loss of the plaintiff is a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s act or failure to act.

If one person or company has a duty to another and breaches that duty, which directly results in physical, emotional, or financial harm to a victim, the person acted negligently. Ultimately, negligence is the failure to act or behave in a way that a reasonable person acting with prudence would have behaved in the same or similar circumstances.


What is Recklessness

Recklessness is a much more serious offense. Negligence simply means that someone should have done something and failed to do so. Recklessness is when someone deliberately engages in dangerous behavior fully knowing that it is dangerous and may injury someone or damage property. In law, if an individual acts with disregard for the safety of others and is conscious that his actions can bring harm to someone else, he may be liable for injuries or losses caused by his recklessness.

Moreover, recklessness is less culpable than intentional wickedness but carries a greater liability than negligence. Drinking and driving, carrying a concealed weapon without proper license, using illegal substances in a public area, etc. are some examples of reckless behavior.

Generally, a person’s conduct is deemed reckless if,

  • They intend to commit the act in question while knowing it may cause harm or risk
  • The risk caused by the above act is an unreasonable one
  • This risk is significantly greater than negligent conduct
  • The person involved knows or has reason to believe that others are present and in harm’s way

There is a willful disregard of people and property and a willingness to take on that risky behavior. In some cases, recklessness is called “gross negligence.” In all cases, the criteria for negligence must be met, however, there is an extra level of dangerous or egregious behavior by the defendant that accompanies that breach of duty.


Examples of Negligence and Recklessness

Negligence is the most common legal basis for injury claims. Some allegations of negligence might include:

  • Drivers who are distracted and cause car crashes
  • Property owners who fail to address property hazards and customers suffer injuries
  • Manufacturers who unintentionally sell defective products that cause injuries

Negligence often involves an error that someone else would not have made.

Recklessness, on the other hand, involves conduct the party knows is likely to cause injury, but they go ahead and do it anyway. This might involve:

  • Drunk driving
  • Driving while texting
  • An employer ignoring an obviously unsafe situation that they know is likely to result in serious injury or death of one of the workers
  • A nightclub owner who knows their venue lacks critical fire safety features
  • A doctor performing a surgery that they are not qualified to perform

Recklessness opens the possibility for exemplary (or punitive) damages in many cases. This is something your injury attorney will review to ensure you receive the full damages you deserve.


Differences Based on the Effect on Your Personal Injury Case

If you can demonstrate that the negligence of the other party was what led to your injuries, as was mentioned above, you might be entitled to compensation. Your medical expenses, lost earnings, other economic losses, and pain and suffering will often all be taken into account when calculating your compensation.

If the other person was negligent, you might be eligible for “punitive damages,” nevertheless. Punitive damages are those awarded to the defendant in an effort to punish them and deter future offenders from engaging in the same conduct. These damages, which are additionally added to the ones mentioned above (also known as “compensatory damages”), might greatly increase the total amount of money you receive in compensation.


Should You Speak with an Attorney?

Our legal team at Duque Law Group is comprised of award-winning and nationally recognized trial lawyers who collaborate with nurses, doctors and medical experts regularly. Though we understand the nature of injuries, we are not physicians, and always encourage victims to seek treatment as soon after an accident as possible, and to follow up and heed their doctors’ advice.

Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.


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