Published on July 3, 2019

What Is the Difference Between Negligence and Recklessness in a Personal Injury Case?

Many accidents are the result of a simple mistake, but other accidents are caused by extreme indifference to the safety of others. In those cases, you may be entitled to additional compensation, but you need to understand the law and how to convince the other side that yours is not an ordinary personal injury case. Failing to understand what makes these cases unique could potentially cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.

Negligence Defined

In order to understand the nature of recklessness, it may be helpful to first define negligence. Negligence is typically defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” To put it another way, we consider someone to be negligent when they behave in a careless manner. They didn’t intend to cause an accident, they just weren’t careful enough to avoid one.

In the context of a personal injury case, you can hold another person liable for your injuries if you can prove that their negligence caused the accident. In order to do that, you must prove the following elements:

  1. The other person owed you a duty to be careful;
  2. The other person failed to perform that duty (i.e. they were careless); and
  3. Their failure to perform that duty caused your injury.

This may make more sense in the context of a car accident. Each driver owes the other drivers on the road a duty to drive safely and according to local traffic laws. If one driver isn’t paying attention, runs a stop sign, and crashes into you, that driver may be held liable for your injuries because they failed in their duty to drive safely.

Recklessness Defined

Recklessness is sometimes also referred to as “gross negligence,” since recklessness is a heightened form of negligence. Like negligence, a reckless person may not have specifically intended to injure anyone, but it can start to look very similar to intentional conduct.

Courts in Illinois have consistently stated that recklessness consists of behavior that shows an utter indifference to or a conscious disregard for the safety of others. This is why you often hear reckless behavior described as “willful” or “wanton.”

In proving recklessness in your personal injury case, you will need to prove the same elements listed above for simple negligence. However, you will also need to show that the other person’s behavior reflected a callous disregard for the safety of others.

Examples of Reckless Behavior

As you may have guessed, it isn’t always easy to distinguish between simple negligence and recklessness. While reasonable minds may disagree in some cases, there are some behaviors that almost always rise to the level of recklessness. Here are some examples of where you may be able to successfully argue that the other person was reckless in causing your injury:

  • 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

The facts will be critical in determining whether or not the other party was reckless. A single, seemingly insignificant fact can spell the difference between simple negligence and recklessness.

How Recklessness May Affect Your Personal Injury Case

As noted above, you may be entitled to compensation if you can prove that the other person’s negligence caused your injuries. In general, your compensation will be determined by your medical bills, your lost wages, any other economic losses, and your pain and suffering.

However, you may be entitled to “punitive damages” if the other party was reckless. Punitive damages are damages that are intended to punish the defendant as a means of dissuading others from doing the same thing. These damages are awarded in addition to the other damages noted above (referred to as “compensatory damages”) and can add significantly to your overall compensation. There is no cap on punitive damages in Illinois.

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