Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 24, 2020

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Reckless conduct is a rash or careless act that is a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person would exhibit under similar circumstances. Someone who has behaved recklessly will have knowingly taken a risk that will have put others in danger. The recklessness standard is treated much more seriously than the negligence standard, because of the person’s disregard that harm could come to other people by their behavior. However, to be found guilty of reckless conduct, courts will use an objective standard, meaning that it does not actually matter what the reckless person was thinking at the time. If the person’s actions deviate far enough from how a reasonable person would act, they will be found guilty and/or liable for reckless conduct.

Legal Implications of Reckless Conduct

People who are charged with reckless conduct may face criminal prosecution. Depending on the nature of the crime, reckless conduct can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. Reckless conduct is often seen in the context of driving, and depending on the seriousness of the accident, can lead to a variety of punishments. If a driver gets into his car with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, and hits another car, injuring the passenger, the fact that he made the choice to drive after drinking will raise his culpability from negligence to recklessness, no matter the other circumstances. A person can be guilty of reckless driving when they are sober as well.

Many states consider any intentional violation of the rules of the road to be reckless conduct. License suspension or losing one’s license is a major consequence of reckless driving. Moreover, depending on how badly the victim was injured or how reckless the guilty party was, they might also face fines and/or jail time. If the reckless conduct is charged as a misdemeanor, the guilty party will not have to spend more than a year in jail. However, in more serious cases, when there is extreme gross disregard for human life, the reckless conduct can be charged as a felony, and the guilty party can spend years in jail and pay thousands in fines.

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Reckless Conduct and Civil Suits

Reckless conduct may result in having to pay money damages as well. For example, if you injure someone while driving recklessly, you are not only faced with a criminal lawsuit, you may also be faced with a civil suit. In civil suits, reckless conduct can mean being liable for compensatory damages, which may include lost wages, medical bills, rehabilitation, as well as payment for any permanent injury or pain and suffering. A plaintiff injured by reckless behavior may also be awarded punitive damages by the court, or damages awarded to punish the party who behaved recklessly, and deter him and the rest of society from doing it again.

If you have been charged either criminally or civilly for reckless conduct, you should contact a criminal defense attorney or a personal injury attorney, or both. Because the legal implications of reckless conduct can be grave, it is wise to have an experienced attorney on your side that knows the law and will protect your rights as best they can.