What Is the Difference Between Negligence vs. Recklessness Conduct In a Civil Case?What Is the Difference Between Negligence vs. Recklessness Conduct In a Civil Case?

What Is the Difference Between Negligence vs. Recklessness Conduct In a Civil Case?

Negligence, recklessness, and intentional conduct are terms commonly used in legal contexts to describe different levels of misconduct that cause injuries or death. In civil cases like a car wreck, these terms are distinct and have special legal significance when it comes to compensation for injuries and damages.

Negligence vs. Recklessness Definitions

Negligence refers to the failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or loss to another person. It means that someone's actions were careless and resulted in harm, such as a driver not paying attention and running a stop sign. The driver didn't intend to cause harm, but failed to drive with the necessary care that a reasonable person would.

Recklessness, on the other hand, involves a higher degree of negligence. It is defined as the conscious disregard of the rights of others or of a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. Using the driver who ran the stop sign in the example for Negligence above, that driver would be reckless if he/she was on their phone in a high traffic area or during rainy weather.  In that circumstance, the driver is aware (or should be aware) that their actions could cause harm, but they proceed anyway.

An easy way to remember the difference between negligence vs. recklessness conduct is to think about passive vs. active behavior. In cases of negligence, the harmful act can be attributed to simple carelessness or incompetence. The person simply failed to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in the same situation.

In contrast, recklessness implies a conscious choice to take a particular course of action, despite knowing it puts others at risk. It's not that the person wants to hurt others, but rather they are indifferent to the risks their actions pose.

Standard of Proof for Being Reckless vs. Negligent

To prove negligence in an Oklahoma civil case, the lawyer for the person injured (the plaintiff) must establish four elements:

  • The defendant (the at fault person) had a duty to use reasonable care toward others, including the plaintiff
  • The defendant violated that duty of care
  • The defendant’s violation of that duty of care caused injury
  • The plaintiff suffered harm as a direct result of the injury

Once it is proven that the defendant was negligent, the plaintiff has the right to be compensated for their damages. That being said, Oklahoma uses a compared modified negligence rule in personal injury claims. This means a plaintiff’s eligibility to recover damages is dependent on the percentage of fault the courts determine they had regarding the injury. More on that in the next section.

Proving recklessness requires showing a higher degree of fault than negligence. The plaintiff’s legal team must demonstrate that the defendant acted in disregard of a known risk or was grossly negligent in not recognizing the risk.

The State of Oklahoma also recognizes circumstances of recklessness that are so extreme that the conduct is considered intentional, even though the person did not mean to injure another. So, the intentional conduct was the intent to do an act without intent to injure, but with knowledge that doing so had a very high or certain likelihood of causing injury or death. In the example above, the driver’s conduct would be intentional if the driver was intoxicated, knew it was unsafe to drive, yet chose to drive anyway putting other drivers and the public at risk of certain injury or death.

Types of Cases That Involve Negligence vs. Recklessness

In Oklahoma, the most common personal injury claims result from these types of incidents:

Either negligence or recklessness could be involved in the above claims, it simply depends on the defendant’s actions and behavior. Each situation is unique and personal injury cases are complex, making it important to have an experienced attorney guiding you through each step.

Legal Consequences of Negligence

In Oklahoma, the civil court system primarily handles personal injury claims involving negligence. The purpose of civil litigation in negligence cases is not to punish the defendant (as in criminal cases) but rather to compensate the plaintiff for their losses and injuries, also called damages. The amount of damages is influenced by the severity of the injury and the degree of negligence. There are two types of damages:

Compensatory Damages

These are intended to compensate the victim for the actual losses they have suffered as a result of another person’s negligence. Compensatory damages can be categorized as economic, which are tangible, fixed costs such as expenses for hospital care, physical therapy, medications, lost wages, and property damages.  Future expenses can also be claimed as damages such as future medical expenses, future lost wages, or loss of earning capacity; or non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and disfigurement.

Factors Affecting Compensation

The amount and type of damages awarded in negligence cases varies quite a bit as it is influenced by the severity of the injury and its effects on the injured person’s life.  Partial fault, if any, on the part of the injured person for causing the accident can also play a role in the amount of compensation the injured person may be entitled to.

To explain more about Oklahoma’s comparative negligence rule, plaintiffs can be awarded compensation as long as they are not more than 50% at fault for the incident. However, any percentage of fault attributed to the injured plaintiff will reduce the total or overall amount of compensation the plaintiff will receive. For example, if a plaintiff was found to be 30% at fault in a car accident and the total damages amounted to $100,000, the plaintiff would be eligible to receive $70,000, reflecting the deduction of their share of fault.

If the plaintiff is deemed to be 51% or more at fault, they will not receive any compensation. There’s no doubt that the concept of comparative negligence has a huge impact on settlement negotiations and trials in civil cases.

Legal Consequences of Recklessness

In Oklahoma, when a person’s behavior is more than simple negligence and it leads to personal injury or death, the consequences can be financially severe.

Punitive Damages

If the at-fault person’s negligence is found to be more than negligence, and is reckless or even considered to be intentional, a jury may be allowed to assess punitive damages against the defendant in addition to compensatory damages discussed above. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the injured plaintiff, but rather to punish the defendant, deter future conduct, and to make an example of them to others in the community.

There is no predetermined amount of money a defendant must pay in punitive damages. Instead, the jury gets to decide how much money is enough to punish the defendant.

In Oklahoma, for juries to decide the amount of punitive damages a defendant should pay, juries are instructed by the Court to consider things like:

  • the defendant’s financial condition;
  • the seriousness of the hazard to the public from the defendant’s conduct; and
  • the degree of the defendant’s awareness of the hazard.

In cases against corporations who have either acted with recklessness individually or have had an employee act with recklessness, the jury may consider:

  • the number of employees involved in the misconduct;
  • the profitability of the misconduct; and
  • the company’s attitude and conduct after discovering the misconduct.

Experienced Personal Injury Counsel

Understanding the differences between negligence vs. recklessness is crucial in personal injury claims as they can significantly affect the strategy for the defendant and plaintiff, and the potential outcomes of the case. GT Law has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury cases involving negligence, recklessness, and other elements. We can provide expert guidance specific to your case and help you navigate the complexities of the legal system, working to ensure the best possible outcome. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

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