What is the Difference Between Negligence and Recklessness in California?

Negligence and recklessness are two levels of fault that carry with them different degrees of punishments under the law. The difference between an act of negligence and an act of recklessness is one of intention. While they may seem similar, there are significant differences in these legal charges.

Acts of negligence and recklessness can have consequences under both civil and criminal law. When an individual files a lawsuit against another party, they initiate a civil case. Only the state and the federal government can bring charges under criminal law.

Understanding the difference between negligence and recklessness can help you determine what cause of action you may have against a party who injured you or caused damage to your property through a civil law suit or claim.

Negligence in California

Negligence occurs when someone owes a legal duty of care to another person and deviates from the required standard of care. For example, a driver has a legal duty to drive as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances. To prevail in a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove four elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • There are certain relationships that create a special duty under the law. For example, the doctor-patient relationship creates a specific duty from a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or another medical practitioner to a patient. This duty requires that a medical professional treat the patient with the standard of care as another doctor in the same or similar circumstances. Other examples of duty include motorists on the roadways have a responsibility to drive carefully and follow traffic laws. Dog owners have a responsibility to ensure that their dogs do not injure other people. Store owners and homeowners have a duty to ensure that their property is free from hazards and danger. Whoever has a duty to another must take care to ensure that that duty is not breached.
  • In order to have a case of negligence, a person with a duty to another would have had to breach that duty in order to file a claim. For example, if a doctor misdiagnoses a patient, or prescribes the wrong medication, that would be considered a breach in duty. If a store owner fails to keep their premises in a safe condition for customers, that would also be a breach of duty.
  • In order to file a claim that includes negligence, there will have to be a direct relationship between the breach of duty and the injuries or damages that a person has suffered. If you suffered an injury from a dog bite through no provocation of your own, or slipped and fell on a shop owner’s property causing injuries, the causation of these injuries would be as a direct result of the breach of the duty they had to you
  • In order to have a case that involves negligence, a person must have suffered actual physical, mental, or emotional damages.

Examples of civil negligence could include a homeowner that has crumbling steps to their home left unrepaired, a shop owner that fails to put up a “wet floor” sign after mopping the floor, an employer who fails to correctly follow OSHA guidance and an injury occurs, or an establishment that hosts a Black Friday event and encourages a mob without appropriate security, causing some patrons to be injured.

In situations like these, the injured party may wish to file a claim of negligence against the party at fault to recover damages like medical bills, property damages, and time off from work.

Recklessness in California

Recklessness occurs when someone knows that a certain action could be dangerous but engages in that behavior despite the danger. It involves more culpability than negligence and typically comes with harsher consequences. To act recklessly, a person must have actual knowledge that their actions may cause harm to another and act in knowing disregard of that risk.

Recklessness may also be referred to as “gross negligence”, as it is a heightened form of negligence. If there is complete and utter indifference to or an absolute and conscious disregard for the safety of others, a person’s actions may rise to the level of recklessness and they may be charged criminally.

Like negligence, reckless behavior requires that someone had a duty, breached that duty, and caused damages. However, there is an extra level of egregiousness that surrounds that breach of duty. For example, recklessness can be charged in cases of drunk driving, driving while texting, obviously unsafe work conditions, unqualified medical professionals performing surgery, lack of safety features in a building or establishment.

Compensation for Your Negligence or Recklessness Claim in California

Whether you file a claim that includes negligence or recklessness will likely affect how much compensation you receive for your injuries or damages. If you can prove that your case involved a breach of duty that directly resulted in your injuries, you may be able to receive compensation for your medical bills, loss of wages, other economic losses, and perhaps even pain and suffering. These types of damages are called “compensatory damages.”

However, if you bring a case that includes a claim of recklessness, you may also be entitled to receive “punitive damages.”  Punitive damages are damages that are awarded by a court or jury that are intended to punish the other party for behaving recklessly and dissuade and prevent others from engaging in that type of behavior in the future.

Contact an Experienced Personal injury Attorney in Orange County

Understanding the differences between negligence and recklessness, and how and when to bring a claim based on either theory, can be legally complex. At Silverthorne Attorneys, our team of talented and experienced personal injury attorneys have helped countless clients recover the compensation they deserve after being injured by the negligent or reckless actions of another.

If you or a loved one have been injured by someone else’s actions, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Silverthorne Attorneys today at (949) 234-6034 or online for a complimentary consultation of your case.