While many individuals take the responsibility of safe driving seriously, many others do not. Motor vehicle accidents cause the deaths of around 36,000 people in the United States each year and result in serious injuries to many thousands more. In the age of cell phones and tablets, distracted driving is becoming an increasingly common problem throughout the country, and drunk driving continues to plague our nation’s roadways.
If you sustained an injury because of a reckless driver, you can seek compensation for the financial and psychological impacts of your injury. An experienced car accident attorney can help manage your case, so reach out to one today. Below, we provide general information related to reckless driving claims.
What Is Reckless Driving?
Reckless driving is any driving behavior that endangers the life and property of another person. While this definition varies some from state to state, the mental state of the at-fault party at the time of the accident is of great importance, as reckless driving charges typically indicate an irreverence or indifference toward someone’s safety.
While anyone is capable of driving recklessly, the practice is particularly dangerous for teens and young adults. Teen drivers are more than three times more likely to die in a car accident than drivers over 20, generally because of inexperience and more frequently engaging in reckless behaviors, such as texting. A third of all teens admit that they have texted while driving, and teens are more likely to commit other reckless driving behaviors as well, including driving at excessive speeds.
Reckless drivers face stiff civil and criminal consequences when they cause an accident that injures others. Penalties include criminal penalties such as fines and incarceration and civil liability for the injuries and fatalities that resulted from the behavior. Reckless drivers also see an increase to insurance premiums of up to 70 percent as the insurance provider perceives a reckless charge as an increased risk that the driver will cause another accident in the future that will result in the payment of another claim.
The most common types of reckless driving behaviors to result in accidents are:
- Speeding. States that have increased their speed limits have also experienced a corresponding increase in injuries and fatal accidents.
- Impairment by alcohol or drugs, which results in more than 5,000 deaths a year and is a factor in about 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S.
- Failure to stay in the proper lane and failure to yield the right-of-way. These two reckless driving behaviors accounted for about 7,500 deaths or 14 percent of the fatalities in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S.
- Distractions, including cell phone use, eating, drinking, visiting with passengers, and external distractions, such as previous accident scenes or work zones, are responsible for around 5,000 deaths a year.
Types of Reckless Driving
Drivers often engage in many different activities that may affect their ability to drive safely. While some may seem less serious, such as eating while driving, others are known to result in extreme danger, such as driving while intoxicated. Regardless, engaging in any activity that affects your ability to drive safely may qualify as reckless driving. Several risky driving behaviors legally constitute reckless driving.
Those behaviors include:
- Speeding: Approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities result from speeding, with more than 9,000 deaths attributed to excessive speed each year. Speeding refers not only to driving faster than the posted speed limit, but also driving too fast for conditions, such as weather, traffic, and road surfaces. Speeding reduces both the time the driver has to react to a hazard and the effectiveness of the vehicle’s protective equipment. Going slightly over the speed limit will likely not constitute reckless driving, but if the driver’s speed exceeds the speed limit by more than 15 mph, it may.
- Racing other vehicles: Most states have laws that prohibit drivers from engaging in speed contests on roadways, as these contests often end with an accident involving one of the racers, and may even involve other drivers who are not participating in or aware of the racing.
- Passing on blind curves: Passing on a curve is risky because your view of the opposing travel lane is limited, meaning you cannot see an approaching vehicle. This leaves you and others on the roadway at risk of experiencing a dangerous or even deadly head-on collision.
- Swerving and cutting in and out of lanes: Part of safe driving is communicating intentions to other drivers by using turn signals. Drivers who are recklessly swerving in and out of traffic generally do not signal their intentions, leaving other drivers to attempt to guess what will happen next.
- Impairment or fatigue: Impairment by drugs and alcohol as well as extreme fatigue can create deficits in the skills that a driver needs to drive safely. Some of these deficits can include the inability to control one’s speed or maintain one’s travel lane, the inability to react quickly in emergency driving situations, and difficulty in making good decisions.
- Passing stopped school buses: All states have requirements that drivers stop when a school bus is stopped ahead and has its stop sign extended. Passing a stopped school bus creates a risk of striking children as they get off the bus and cross the street or striking a parent or other care provider who is crossing the street to retrieve the child from the bus. Drivers in the opposing travel lanes generally must stop for the school bus as well, unless the roadway features several lanes and a median divider between directions of travel.
- Running a red light or a stop sign: Failing to yield at an intersection by running a red light or stop sign is one of the most common causes of intersection accidents, including the often deadly broadside accident, which occurs when the front of one vehicle strikes the side of another. This type of accident often results in the most serious injuries to passengers sitting on the side of the struck vehicle, as the doors of vehicles do not offer a lot of protection. This is particularly true if a large size discrepancy exists between the vehicles.
- Fleeing from police: If a driver flees from police—even if the chase is not particularly high-speed—and crashes into another vehicle, the driver may face criminal and civil liability for causing an accident while driving recklessly.
- Cell phone use: No one is immune to driving distractions. However, some distractions are more dangerous than others, including texting and other cell phone use. Three types of distractions can endanger drivers. Manual distractions involve anything that causes a driver to take his or her hands from the wheel. Visual distractions are anything that causes a driver to take his or her eyes from the road. Cognitive distractions involve anything that causes a driver’s focus and attention to drift away from the task of driving safely. Texting and other cell phone use, such as checking email or browsing social media, involves all three types of distractions. In fact, in the time it takes to read or reply to a text, an email, or a social media post, a driver would have traveled the length of a football field without paying attention to the road.
Have You Sustained an Injury Caused by a Reckless Driver?
There are many types of driving behaviors that constitute reckless driving and are capable of causing serious injury or even death to other users of the roadway. Unfortunately, all reckless driving behaviors are capable of producing serious or even fatal injuries. Two of the most severe injuries that a person can suffer—traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries—are both commonly caused by motor vehicle accidents, including those caused by reckless drivers.
If you have sustained an injury or lost a loved one due to the actions of a reckless driver, you can seek compensation through a car accident or a wrongful death lawsuit, depending on the circumstances.
These often complex claims may involve multiple different parties, including powerful insurance companies that don’t like to pay out claims unless they have to, so enlisting the services of an experienced accident attorney is the best way to ensure that your rights are protected, that you understand what’s going on in your case, and that you recover maximum compensation.
In both the car accident and the wrongful death claims processes, you must prove who caused your accident to obtain compensation from that individual’s insurance provider.
To prove liability, you must establish:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care is the way that a reasonable person would act in a given set of circumstances. A driver owes a duty of care to other users of the roadway—to drive safely and legally.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach refers to actions that the at-fault party took that contradicted the duty of care. Reckless driving behaviors are unsafe and usually illegal.
- The breach caused the accident that resulted in your injuries and caused you to incur out-of-pocket expenses and impacts on your quality of life.
Duty of Care
The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care is how a reasonable person acts in a given set of circumstances. A driver owes a duty of care to others to drive safely and legally.
The duty of care is an objective standard. To prove negligence, you do not need to show that the other driver intended to drive in an unsafe manner. You only need to show that the driver knew or should have known that their behavior was unsafe.
For example, suppose the reckless driving in your car accident involved someone who was street racing. Your car accident lawyer does not need to prove that the racer knew that street racing was illegal or unsafe. Equally importantly, your lawyer does not need to prove that the racer intended to hit your car or injure you.
Instead, your car accident attorney only needs to show that a reasonably prudent driver would know that street racing can cause accidents that injure others.
Under the doctrine of “negligence per se” used by Florida courts, a safety statute can define the standard of care for drivers. If a driver violates the safety statute, a civil court can allow the accident victim’s accident lawyer to skip the duty and breach elements and go directly to causation.
In other words, when a driver violates a traffic safety statute like Florida’s reckless driving law, the court presumes:
- The statute established the duty of care
- The violation of the statute constituted a breach of that duty
As a practical matter, your car accident attorney can use the other driver’s conviction for reckless driving to substantially prove the first two elements of your case without presenting any additional evidence of duty or breach. Instead, your accident lawyer will jump straight to causation and damages.
Breach of Duty
The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach refers to actions the at-fault party took that contradicted the duty of care. Reckless driving behaviors are unsafe and usually illegal.
The breach of duty in negligence law differs from the breach of duty in criminal law.
If a prosecutor in Florida charges someone with reckless driving, the prosecutor must prove the driver acted with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. This exceeds the “known or should have known” requirement in injury law.
A prosecutor usually proves a driver acted with willful or wanton disregard in one of two ways:
- Actual knowledge of the danger of their actions
- Willful blindness toward the consequences of their actions
In either case, prosecutors must show that the driver acted despite knowing how dangerous their actions were or while ignoring the danger of their actions.
Your injury lawyer can use the same evidence as prosecutors. But your lawyer must meet a much lower standard than criminal prosecutors.
First, prosecutors must show that the driver appreciated the danger of their actions and either ignored it or proceeded despite it. Your car accident attorney only needs to show that a reasonably prudent driver would have known of the danger, even if this particular driver did not.
Second, prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. This means jurors cannot have any doubts in their minds stemming from the facts or reasonable assumptions drawn from the facts. In other words, jurors must be 100 percent certain that the driver violated the reckless driving statute to convict.
By contrast, your car accident lawyer only needs to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence.
A preponderance of the evidence requires you to show that the other driver probably acted negligently. This means jurors or claim adjusters only need to be 51 percent certain that the driver acted negligently to find the other driver liable.
The breach caused the accident that resulted in your injuries and caused you to incur out-of-pocket expenses and impacts on your quality of life.
Causation has two parts. Your car accident attorney must show that the other driver’s recklessness fell within the chain of events that led to your injuries. In other words, you must show that the reckless driving was a cause-in-fact of your injuries.
Cause-in-fact allows fairly remote events to get connected.
For example, suppose a reckless driver hit a bus, damaging its brakes. The bus left the accident scene with the reckless driver to head to the repair depot. During the drive to the repair depot, the bus driver lost control and hit a lamp post that fell onto the road. You got injured when you ran into the fallen lamp post.
In this sequence of events, the driver’s recklessness seems fairly remote from your injuries. But it was a cause-in-fact because you would not have gotten injured “but for” the reckless driver hitting the bus.
To rein in the scope of causation, your car accident lawyer must also show that the other driver’s actions were the proximate cause of your injuries. A proximate cause is an action that will reasonably and foreseeably cause injuries.
Reckless driving has a broad scope of dangers. This will help your car accident attorney argue that your injuries were a foreseeable result of the reckless driver’s actions. Specifically, reckless driving could injure:
- Motorists and motorcyclists
- Passengers in the reckless driver’s vehicle
You can even argue that recklessness can foreseeably cause a car to leave the road and hit buildings or other property that collapses and injures people.
The Compensation You Can Receive
Your car accident lawyer must also prove your damages to hold someone liable for reckless driving. Negligence only creates liability when it harms someone else.
Damages in an Injury Claim for Reckless Driving
Both car accident and wrongful death lawsuits allow injured individuals to recover economic and non-economic damages. Damages compensate an individual for harm sustained in an accident caused by someone else. Economic damages compensate for financial impacts.
The expenses and impacts that compensate an injured individual for economic losses after a reckless driver accident include:
- Medical expenses for physical and mental injuries
- Wage loss
- Loss of future earning capacity
- The cost of repairing or replacing a damaged car
Non-economic losses cover all those intangible changes in your life caused by your injuries.
Even though they might not come with a monetary value, these losses can substantially affect your quality of life. Even if you cannot place a monetary price on certain losses, they still have value to you. For example, getting a good night’s sleep free of pain has value, just not a dollar value.
A jury or claims adjuster will need to estimate the value of these losses based on the severity and duration of your injuries. Severe or painful injuries cause greater non-economic losses than mild and relatively painless injuries. And permanent injuries have a longer impact on your life than temporary injuries.
Some examples of non-economic losses include:
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Loss of physical independence
- Inability to work and have financial independence
- Loss of the ability to engage in activities you enjoy
- The inconvenience of being injured
- Reduction in the enjoyment of life
To prove economic damages, your attorney will need copies of medical bills, wage records, bank statements, credit card statements, and other documents that prove your financial losses.
To prove non-economic damages, a car accident lawyer will usually introduce copies of your medical records explaining the extent of your injuries. Your lawyer may also use an expert witness to explain the long-term effects of your injuries.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim for Reckless Driving
Spouses, parents, children, and other family members wholly or partially dependent on an individual for support and services can seek compensation for expenses and impacts of that individual’s death through a wrongful death lawsuit.
The recoverable damages in this type of action include:
- The value of the support and services that the deceased provided to their family members
- Loss of companionship, guidance, and protection that was provided to family members by the deceased
- Mental and emotional pain incurred through the loss of a child
- Medical and funeral expenses that a family member directly paid
The deceased’s estate can also receive damages, including:
- The loss of income and benefits that the deceased would have earned throughout their career if not for the death
- Loss of prospective net accumulations to the estate
- Medical and funeral expenses that the estate paid
Contact a Car Accident Attorney
In a matter of seconds, a reckless driver can change your life and the lives of your loved ones forever. If you’ve sustained injuries or lost a loved one in an accident caused by reckless driving, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss the details of your accident and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for your injuries.