Reckless driving is a criminal offense in every state, and it often causes severe injuries, catastrophic injuries, or even death. Someone caught reckless driving could face criminal charges, fines, or imprisonment. Criminal consequences do not close off civil remedies for victims, as victims of reckless driving can sue for compensation to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages.
Reckless Driving Defined
States define reckless driving differently, but generally they prohibit any driving behavior that willfully disregards the safety of people and property. This may include excessive speeding, driving under the influence, or driving while distracted. Aggressive driving, such as rapidly weaving in and out of traffic to change lanes, could also land a driver with a reckless driving charge.
Reckless Driving Penalties
If you drive recklessly on any street highway, in a parking lot, at public and private institutions of higher education, on the roads of any state institution, school, state park, or public recreation area, the police may ticket you for reckless driving.
Potential penalties from tickets for reckless driving range depending on the circumstances. However, penalties for first-time offenders often include mandatory jail sentences and a fine of hundreds of dollars. A court could also assess a fine, jail time, or both. If an accident causes serious bodily injury, a first offense could get the driver a fine of several hundred dollars several months of jail time.
Defining Serious Bodily Injury
A serious bodily injury causes long-term or permanent injuries, disfigurement, the loss of a bodily function or organ, or creates a substantial risk of death. Because a prosecutor must prove serious bodily injury to get a court to impose the corresponding criminal penalties, a prosecutor could ask a victim of a reckless driving accident to submit medical records.
Difference Between Criminal and Civil Consequences of Reckless Driving
While the state may a defendant for reckless driving, a conviction will not compensate a victim of the accident for their injuries. Those seeking to recover damages for injuries need to file a civil lawsuit or enter into negotiations with the defendant’s insurance company, or the defendant themselves if they did not have insurance at the time of the accident.
Reckless Driving Incidents and Insurance Companies
As with any accident, you should report a reckless driving accident to the insurance company as soon as possible. Each insurance company has its own rules for reporting claims, including a time limit. When you do contact the insurance company, whether it is your own or the defendant’s insurance company, only give it your contact information, the date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
The insurance company will try to get you to talk about the accident. Refer the insurance company to your attorney. Because it is in business to make a profit, the insurance company may try to use what you say against you, in an attempt to deny your claim or offer you an unfair settlement. Reckless driving attorneys are familiar with the tactics of insurance companies and know what to say and what not to say when communicating with them.
Reckless Driving Accident Injuries
Accident injuries from a reckless driving accident range from minor to fatal, but are often more severe, especially if speeding is involved.
Injuries in reckless driving accidents may include:
- Bumps, bruises, scratches, scrapes, and cuts.
- Road rash.
- Burns from chemicals and fire.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions and penetrating brain injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Internal injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries that could lead to quadriplegia, paraplegia, and paralysis.
- Face and eye injuries.
You could also suffer from secondary injuries, such as infections. Open wounds, whether from the accident or from surgery to repair accident injuries, could become infected, especially if you have underlying conditions, including immunodeficiencies from diseases or treatments such as chemotherapy.
Recoverable Damages in Reckless Driving Case
After being injured by a reckless driver, or losing a loved one to a reckless driving accident, you could recover compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages compensate a victim for expenses and losses incurred in the accident. Punitive damages are less common, but a court may order the defendant to pay them if it finds his or her actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional. Of course, reckless driving might fall under this category, and victims might collect punitive damages.
There are two types of compensatory damages: Economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages have a fixed monetary value while non-economic damages do not. The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again.
Sometimes called special damages, economic damages may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost wages. You may also collect partial future lost wages if you can still work, but your accident-caused injuries or disabilities prevent you from making what you made before the accident.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property
- Funeral, burial, or cremation expenses
Sometimes called general damages, non-economic damages may include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress for those who suffered injuries in a reckless driving accident
- Emotional distress, for those who lost a loved one in a reckless driving accident
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy family activities and events
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse
- Loss of use of a body part, such as an arm or a foot
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight
- Amputation of a limb, whether during the accident or because of medical necessity in surgery for treatment of accident injuries
- Disfigurement and excessive scarring
- Inconvenience, if you have to hire someone to do your usual chores, such as lawn maintenance, house cleaning, grocery shopping, or home repair
Which, if any, of these items can you obtain compensation for? You’ll need to speak to a car accident lawyer near you. A car accident lawyer can evaluate your claim at no cost to you, and if they accept your case, their services, too, will cost you nothing. You don’t have anything to lose.