Posted by Vine Marketing
On August 11, 2023

Negligence vs. Recklessness, Definitions Under CA Civil Law

Negligence and Recklessness: Why does it matter?

Negligence and recklessness are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation. Unfortunately, the legal system doesn’t speak quite the same language as the average citizen and finds these two terms legally distinct. When you have suffered an injury, fully understanding these two concepts will aid you in knowing what you have to prove and what your available remedies are. Failing to apply these terms correctly can confuse the court and negatively impact your case.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is a failure to exercise the same care in a situation that a ‘reasonable person’ would have. It does not require that the person intended to cause the injury, but it still must exceed the threshold of a simple accident or mistake. Proving negligence requires that you show the defendant owed a duty (such as an establishment’s duty to provide a safe environment for business), the defendant failed to take the appropriate amount of care for the activity they were engaged in, and you suffered injury or damages because of defendant’s acts or omissions.

We’ll consider the following example: A driver is tailgating when the leading vehicle suddenly brakes, causing a collision. In the accident, the lead driver suffers a neck injury. The tailgating driver could be sued under negligence standards for not allowing an appropriate amount of space between the two vehicles.

What is Recklessness?

Legal recklessness, on the other hand, involves engaging in risky behavior with a willful disregard for the danger to others. Where negligence is sloppy, careless, or inattentive behavior that results in unintended harm, recklessness means a person willingly turned a blind eye to clearly known risks, often in violation of the law. With recklessness, not only was the risk of injury to others foreseeable, but these risks were also ignored by the reckless person.

A street racer who grossly exceeds the speed limit and strikes another vehicle could easily be sued for recklessness, not to mention facing a litany of criminal charges.

Differences Between Negligence and Recklessness

The main difference between negligence and recklessness boils down to the level of intent involved. Negligence is unintentional and careless behavior that caused harm. It shows a lapse in judgment or awareness that a person should have had.

Recklessness, on the other hand, involves a conscious decision to engage in dangerous behavior, knowing full well the potential consequences.

Why does it matter?

But why does it matter to you if the damages you suffered were the result of recklessness or negligence? True, It doesn’t directly affect your injury. However, these terms affect what you have to prove in your claim, as well as your available remedies.

The legal standard for proving negligence is lower than the standard for recklessness. Proving negligence means the plaintiff must meet the threshold of ‘the preponderance of the evidence,’ or in other words, ‘more likely than not.’

Proving recklessness requires ‘clear and convincing evidence,’ demonstrating a high likelihood that the defendant was not only responsible for the injury but also that they willfully acted in a dangerous manner. You can read more about the standards of proof in our article here

How much you can recover may also vary depending on whether your damages were the result of negligent or reckless behavior. Reckless behavior, particularly that which displays malice or highly despicable conduct, may allow you to sue for punitive damages; these are additional fees outside of simply those required to compensate you. It is significantly more difficult to recover punitive damages in cases involving only negligence.

Defenses and Roadblocks

There are several defenses you will likely have to overcome to prove your case. The most common defense is that the defendant was not engaged in negligent or reckless behavior, but that their behavior was merely a mistake, the results of which were not reasonably foreseeable to the average person.

Another defense you will have to confront is the claim that your own behavior contributed to your injuries. If you were also engaged in reckless or negligent conduct, the comparative fault policy (or comparative negligence) might hold you partially or fully responsible for your injuries. This can drastically reduce the amount of any damages that you can recover. You can read more about comparative negligence in our article here. 

What Should I Do?

Your claim rests upon your ability to prove it. That is why swift action is critical to preserve as much information as possible. However, always seek emergency medical treatment if your injury requires it before doing anything else. Never delay medical care to gather evidence.

Afterward, document the accident and injuries and save any critical documentation or correspondence. Get witness names if possible, and photograph everything related to your injury, especially any identifying information. These can include license plates, the accident scene, and make and model tags on vehicles.

Never talk to an insurance investigator or give any statements until after you have spoken to an attorney. To read more on what evidence you should preserve, read our article here. 


How We Can Help.

Having tried over 70 cases and handling hundreds of settlements, our attorneys have countless hours of experience to guide you through your claim. If you have suffered an injury, we can help you fully identify your injuries, walk you through the steps of building a case, and help protect you from predatory insurance settlement practices. Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.