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Carelessness Can Quickly Become Recklessness

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss topics related to personal injury law.

Today’s question comes from a listener who asks “what is the legal difference between carelessness and recklessness?”

This is an important question and the answer is equally important.

We’ve handled many cases over the years where the defendant driver was not just careless or negligent.

Instead these drivers were what people would readily describe as a “reckless driver” or “bad driver”.

Typically, reckless drivers, or what many people label as bad drivers, have common characteristics.

Often a reckless driver will have a long history of moving violations.

These violations might include speeding violations, running a red light, driving while suspended, driving while under the influence.

By a long history I don’t just mean one or two tickets, I mean dozens of citations.

It is not uncommon for these drivers to hold licenses in multiple states so that they can spread the large number of citations over two records in hopes of avoiding a license suspension.

Or, if a license in one state gets suspended, they will use the license issued by the other state when they get pulled over.

Another thing bad drivers, reckless drivers, have in common is they will almost invariably insist when testifying under oath that they had the right-of-way, or that the last time they checked they had the green light.

This usually ends up being a story along the lines of “the light was yellow as I was approaching so I knew when I went through the intersection it still must’ve been yellow”.

Or, you’ll get something like “the other drivers ahead of me were slow in making their left turn, so I got stuck having to enter against a red light”.

Or “this other driver who left the scene didn’t leave me enough room”.

Or “someone waved me through”.

What does a reckless driver look like?

They come in all shapes and sizes, all races and nationalities and sexes, and can be old or young.

You may have encountered one when you saw the driver on the highway with you briskly weave in and out of traffic without signaling, or jump from one lane to another to zoom past a car that they are certain is not moving fast enough.

They like to tailgate.

You sometimes see them pulling out in front of you from the parking lot of a bar, or weaving from side to side in their lane of travel, or even crossing their lane markers.

Maybe you have seen them speed up and cut you off when everyone else is trying to avoid a lane closed due to construction, all while holding a cellphone to their head or while looking down at their lap trying to text.

Oh, and bad drivers typically have a real problem leaving space between themselves and the cars ahead of them.

In short, bad drivers or what we call reckless drivers, think that they own the road and that everyone else is required to look out for them.

They are offensive drivers … the exact opposite of the defensive driver.

Oh, if you are interested, the law uses the following definition: “A person acts recklessly when he or she disregards a substantial risk of danger that either is known or would be apparent to a reasonable person in the same position.”

In contrast ordinary carelessness, or what is called negligence, is defined as “[doing] something a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation, or [failing] to do something a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.”

Main difference: the reckless person knows of a danger and consciously chooses to disregard it.

Like knowing you are intoxicated and consciously choosing to get behind a wheel. Or, knowing that tailgating is dangerous, but deliberately choosing to do it anyway.

Drivers who operate in reckless disregard of the consequences of what they do, can be held liable for punitive damages, to punish their behavior.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about your legal rights if you get hurt due to the carelessness of another person, or as a result of substandard medical care, or due to a product defect, construction injury, or any other type of personal injury, please give us a call at (219) 736-9700. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth”.