Is There A Difference Between Negligence & Recklessness?

In typical cases where a personal injury lawsuit is pursued, it is because someone else is responsible for the injuries of another party, and negligence is usually the cause. It’s for this reason that negligence is also the word often used when taking a case to court, officially citing negligence as the reason that someone else unnecessarily received injuries.

But in some cases, there may be an additional, or even completely different charge of recklessness, such as reckless driving. But what is the difference between these two accusations? Is there a difference? Or are these interchangeable terms, and someone taken to court for recklessness is identical in severity and end result as someone going to court for negligence? We’ll take a closer look.

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 means that a person has a basic legal obligation to provide a certain minimum standard of safety. In driving, this means maintaining situational awareness of the road. In public spaces like shopping malls, it means maintaining clean, dry walking surfaces, and well-lit stairs. In homes, it may mean ensuring firearms are safely locked away and not easily accessible by simply pulling open a nightstand drawer with a loaded weapon.

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, the person with the responsibility was either careless, maybe thinking to do something later, or just too distracted—as drivers often are—by something on the phone. In these cases, someone negligent is not actually considering the increase in risk that the behavior, or lack of action, represents, it is just a matter of not thinking, or being lazy.

Recklessness, on the other hand, is considered a more serious charge in court. Recklessness means that there is a more malicious intent at work. This does not mean that a person is intentionally going out to inflict harm on others, which is a criminal charge. But it does mean the person is aware of increasing the possible risk of harm, and simply does not care.

So, in a typical, tragic case of negligence, a driver may be on the road, then get a message on his or her phone. The driver looks down and starts paying more attention to the phone, and does not see the child chasing a ball down the street. If the child is struck and injured or killed, this is definitely due to negligence.

On the other hand, if some teenage boys are out on a joyride and decide, for fun, to drive the car on the sidewalk, and run over mail boxes that may posted on the edge of properties, this is definitely reckless driving. The teenagers know they should not be on the sidewalk, and there’s a high risk of property damage and personal injury, but they don’t care. In the event that a child should be playing on the lawn and get struck by these teens in the car, the lawsuit would definitely be “upgraded” to a reckless driving case, with wrongful death and possibly even punitive damages involved.

These differences can have dramatic effects for your court options. Always make sure to consult with an experienced accident lawyer to make sure you know how to best proceed in a personal injury case..