Too many people fail to take the responsibility of driving seriously, and drive recklessly. This puts everyone else on the road in danger, including other drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. It’s easy to throw around the term reckless driving, but it is important to understand what it means, especially when you have suffered injuries in an accident.
Read on to understand what constitutes reckless driving, and how to recover for injuries suffered in a reckless driving accident.
What Is Reckless Driving?
A study has found that more than 80 percent of drivers engage in at least one risky driving behavior each month. Reckless driving is a term that is often used in criminal law to define a criminal driving offense. The definition of reckless driving will vary from state to state as will the scenarios that rise to its level.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the similar term aggressive driving as scenarios when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses to endanger other persons or property.”
Proof that a driver acted recklessly is not required to recover for your injuries in civil court; civil recovery only requires a showing of negligence which is any action outside of a driver’s reasonable standard of care. A criminal finding of reckless driving, however, is strong evidence that you deserve to recover for your injuries from the defendant.
Actions that are commonly found to rise to the level of reckless driving include:
- Excessive speeding
- Driving without using headlights
- Racing another vehicle
- Passing another vehicle without visibility of oncoming traffic
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Texting while driving
- Consciously disregarding traffic signals like stop signs or traffic lights
Your lawyer can work with you to understand how criminal reckless driving charges will influence your case for recovery for your injuries. Because a reckless driving accident often involves a driver who has lost control of a car or is speeding, the accidents can result in severe and painful injuries for victims.
Victims might suffer from:
- Traumatic brain injuries: If your head strikes any surface during the accident, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is possible. The severity of symptoms will depend on the location and force of the below and can range from temporary disorientation to brain death. TBIs are especially common when a pedestrian is a victim of a reckless driving accident.
- Head injuries: In addition to a TBI, a blow to the head can result in head lacerations or concussions.
- Spinal cord injuries: The spinal cord communicates between the brain and body. Any spinal cord injury can end the victim’s ability to return to a normal life. A spinal cord injury victim could suffer from muscle weakness or paralysis, and the affected area of the body will depend on the location of the injury.
- Neck and back injuries: If the body suffers any jarring movement in the crash, the victim could suffer back or neck injuries, including whiplash. More severe injuries cause chronic pain and require ongoing physical therapy.
- Internal damage: The interior of the body is also at risk of injury, and a blow could damage the heart, lungs, kidneys, or other organs. Internal injuries are difficult to diagnose but can be deadly if left untreated.
- Dental and facial injuries: A blow to the face can cause broken facial bones, chipped teeth, or skin damage.
- Broken bones and fractures: While a broken bone might seem like a common injury, a break can seriously limit mobility, and a severe break might require surgery.
- Bruises, scrapes, and cuts: These injuries can seem minor, but they can easily disrupt a victim’s day-to-day life. If a victim is a bicyclist, motorcyclist, or ejected from a vehicle, they could suffer from road rash, which is caused by skin scraping across the ground. Serious cases of road rash require skin grafting.
You will need to build a case against the reckless defendant to secure a recovery for your injuries and other damages.
Building a Case for Recovery
A prosecutor will build the criminal case for reckless driving, but you will still need to prepare a case to support your recovery. You may benefit from the criminal case, but you can’t rely on it. A prosecutor may decide not to pursue charges against the defendant, or the criminal case might move more slowly than your case against the defendant.
While each case is unique, these three examples of common reckless driving scenarios help illustrate the actions that constitute reckless driving:
- Driving under the influence: An average of one person dies from drunk driving every 52 minutes in the United States. Each state will have its own laws against drunk driving. These laws commonly find a driver guilty when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent or greater or when they are identified as “under the influence.” A variety of factors can demonstrate a driver under the influence, including any elevated BAC, failure of field sobriety tests, or slurred speech. A BAC of 0.08 percent or higher makes a reckless driving case relatively straightforward. While it is more complicated to demonstrate that a driver was under the influence, it is possible with strong evidence.
- Excessive speed: Approximately two-thirds of drivers exceed the speed limits posted on U.S. roads. Driving 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit is excessive speeding often found to constitute reckless driving, though the threshold will vary from state to state. A driver also needs to adjust their speed to account for weather and road conditions. The faster a vehicle is moving, the less likely a driver can control the vehicle or come to a stop—and will create a greater force of impact in a crash.
- Distracted driving: Many states have passed laws prohibiting texting and driving and other distractions. Legislation in this area is increasingly common because an estimated 400,000 people were injured and 2,800 people were killed in the U.S. in 2018. The frequency of distracted driving has risen steadily as smart devices have become more common. Distracted driving is easier to prove when there is a law detailing what is prohibited, but it could still rise to the level of reckless driving even in the absence of a law violation.
- Racing: Racing might seem like a farfetched example of reckless driving, but an average of nine out of every 100,000 drivers has been cited for street racing. This number likely under-represents the true scope of racing because it is an underreported crime, with accidents being attributed to another cause like speeding. Most states have laws against street racing that include a criminal penalty.
A police report is an important piece of evidence as you establish your case for recovery. The report will include witness information and statements, detail the accident scene including pictures, and note any traffic citations that were issued to a driver. If you can’t call the police to the scene, do your best to document and retain details of the accident scene, witness information, and evidence that demonstrates a party’s recklessness or negligence.
During the court process, you will also have an opportunity to demand certain types of evidence from the defendant, including in-person interviews called depositions, responses to written questions called interrogatories, and requests to produce relevant documents. The defendant may also request the same forms of evidence from you.
Work with your lawyer to understand what type of information you might be required to produce. It is important to be careful about what you post on social media because the defendant will likely review your public social media profiles and might request information from your private accounts. A post with a picture of the accident and even an innocuous statement could be used by the defendant to argue that you were also responsible for the accident.
In addition to building a case against the defendant, you must prepare a comprehensive damages assessment. This figure will be analyzed by the jury when awarding damages and will also be a tool for assessing any settlement offer made by the defendant or their insurance provider. A settlement has many benefits, including a guaranteed recovery and quicker resolution. However, you should only accept a settlement offer that matches the strength of your case and the fair extent of your damages.
A reckless driver is responsible for all the damages resulting from the accident they caused. These damages often extend far beyond medical expenses.
Work with your lawyer to assess the full extent of your damages, including:
- Medical expenses: Keep track of all the expenses associated with your physical injuries, including emergency transportation, doctor’s bills, surgical procedures, testing, and prescription medication. Include an estimate of ongoing and future medical costs like physical therapy.
- Lost wages: Many injuries limit the victim’s ability to return to work either temporarily or permanently. The defendant is responsible for the past lost wages, an estimate of future lost wages, and any diminishment in future earning potential.
- Property damage: Whether it was your car, bike, or smartphone, the defendant is responsible for the repair or replacement of damaged or destroyed property.
- Emotional distress: The defendant is also responsible for the emotional distress suffered by the victim because of the accident. Car accident victims might suffer from anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Work with your lawyer to include appropriate compensation for emotional distress in your demand.
- Loss of enjoyment: Life is made happier by participating in activities we enjoy. Unfortunately, injuries can limit a victim’s ability to participate in these activities, especially when the injuries are severe. Imagine an avid marathon runner who can never run another day. The victim deserves compensation for the loss.
- Punitive damages: Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their behavior rather than compensate the plaintiff. Each state has its own standard for the type of behavior that warrants punitive damages. In many states, reckless driving will rise to the level required to qualify for punitive damages.
Establish your case and prepare your damages demand promptly. The state requires that plaintiffs bring claims against a defendant in a reasonable amount of time that generally ranges from one to five years. If you miss the filing window, you will not be eligible to pursue recovery against the defendant.
A Car Accident Attorney can help
A skilled car accident attorney can help you navigate the stressful and critical time after an accident with a reckless driver.
A good attorney can help you with each aspect of your case, including:
- Analyzing the facts of the case to determine its strength;
- Tracking any criminal action against the reckless driver;
- Preparing a case strategy;
- Compiling evidence to support the case and respond to evidence requests from the defendant;
- Analyzing the defendant’s insurance coverage;
- Communicating with the defendant and insurance company;
- Hiring experts if necessary for assessing the case or preparing a damages demand;
- Advise you about the adequacy of settlement offers; and
- Prepare and file court documents