A very large number of traffic crashes cause deaths and injuries. One of the reasons is reckless driving, which is far too common. Below our experienced auto accident attorneys break down what reckless driving is and the main causes. For more information regarding compensation after suffering injuries in a reckless driving accident speak with one our experienced car accident lawyers today.
What Is Reckless Driving?
We often use the term “reckless driving” to describe obviously poor driving or actions that drivers shouldn’t take, such as speeding. But “reckless driving” isn’t just a generic term to throw at the careless driver next to you on the highway. It has a specific meaning under the law.
Different states define reckless driving differently. Texas Transportation Code Section 545.401, for example, states that reckless driving occurs when a driver operates “a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Reckless driving is a crime, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200 or a jail term of up to 30 days, or both.
Does that mean that reckless driving is different from plain old careless driving, the kind that can land you in a fender-bender because, say, another driver didn’t bother to check their blind spot before changing lanes?
Yes, it is different. The kind of careless or imprudent driving that causes accidents is negligent driving. Negligence is a legal term meaning that a person violated a duty of care they owed you. The duty of care for every single driver in Texas is to follow all traffic laws, drive safely according to conditions, and maintain their cars well enough so that poor vehicle condition doesn’t cause accidents.
A driver who tries to stop at a red light but goes into the intersection instead is negligent, because they should have braked and stopped the minute they saw the light change from green to yellow. That’s the prudent move to make.
A driver who deliberately thinks “I’m going to beat the light” and floors the accelerator to make it through a red light is driving recklessly, because they aren’t even thinking about safe driving—they’re actively driving unsafely.
If negligence causes an accident that injures you or a loved one, the negligent person is financially responsible for your injuries, as long as those injuries stem from the accident and not some other cause.
If reckless driving causes an accident that injures you or a loved one, the reckless driver is also financially responsible for your injuries, because reckless driving is essentially a subcategory of negligent driving. It’s a subcategory that’s a step or two beyond simple negligence, however.
Negligence is inadvisable, unsafe, and can open the negligent party to civil liability to victims whose injuries stemmed from that person’s negligence. But negligence is a criminal matter only if the negligence violates laws on the books. Reckless driving does violate the law, so it’s both a civil and criminal matter.
The following are examples of reckless driving:
- Speeding, especially considerably above the limit;
- Street racing;
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances that impair the driver’s judgment and ability to drive;
- Passing when it is dangerous to do so or not checking to see if it is safe to pass another vehicle;
- Texting, using social media, or talking on a cell phone while driving;
- Changing lanes abruptly, without checking the positions of other vehicles;
- Road rage accidents in general;
- Not stopping at stop signs or traffic lights;
- Driving too closely behind other vehicles (tailgating);
- Hitting someone or something and failing to stop (a hit and run);
- Failing to yield the right of way;
- Passing a stopped school bus that is picking up or dropping off passengers; and
- Trying to evade law enforcement.
Common Injuries in Reckless Driving Accidents
People can suffer almost any type of injury in a reckless driving crash. Some common injuries include:
- Broken bones;
- Internal injuries;
- Soft tissue injuries;
- Skull fractures and other head injuries;
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs);
- Spinal cord injuries (SCIs);
- Rib and back injuries, such as fractures;
- Amputations and loss of body parts, such as eyes;
- Coma; and
Reckless driving crashes can cause serious harm, because often they are very serious and extensive accidents.
Injuries that hurt the victim’s ability to function, such as walking or talking, are known as catastrophic injuries. SCIs, skull fractures and head injuries, internal injuries, and TBIs all can be catastrophic injuries.
What if I Was Injured in a Reckless Driving Accident?
While nobody should drive recklessly and follow safe driving laws, the difference between simple negligence and reckless driving may not make a great deal of difference to you if you were injured by the actions of a reckless driver. As long as the driver bears responsibility for the accident, they are financially liable to you for damages you sustained in the accident, whether they were driving recklessly or not.
If the other driver is charged by the local prosecutor for driving recklessly, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the driver also faces criminal misdemeanor charges, if that helps. If you noticed what you thought was reckless driving leading up to your accident, it’s a good idea to mention it to the law enforcement official who arrives in response to a 911 call after the crash. They can note it in the crash report and check out the circumstances. Law enforcement brings charges against reckless drivers. You do not have to do anything specific to make sure they are charged for the crime itself.
In some circumstances, knowing that an at-fault driver was driving recklessly can benefit you. If you make an injury claim, either to an insurance company or in a car accident lawsuit in civil court, the reckless driving charge can serve as evidence of how callous, how reckless, and how much at fault the driver was. It’s also additional evidence that the reckless driver was the at-fault driver, in case the insurance company tries to blame you or another driver (which is a common tactic insurance companies use so they don’t have to pay you what you deserve).
In some cases, though, insurance companies may fight very hard to find other ways to minimize a just claim by an injured person. Reckless driving accidents can cause very serious injuries. Insurance companies may therefore owe more to reckless driving accident victims than they would to victims of less severe accidents. Insurance companies can use many strategies to try to minimize payments to victims, none of them fair. They can claim that you weren’t injured in the accident, or weren’t injured as badly as you say. Alternatively, they can try to settle very quickly, but for an amount far below what you should receive. This technique is known as low-balling.
As a result, it’s a good idea to talk to an experienced car accident attorney if you suffered injuries in a crash with a reckless driver. An experienced attorney can compile evidence for your claim. They are also skilled at negotiating with insurance companies for just compensation. They can counter all the false arguments insurance companies try to make.
What About Wet Reckless Charges?
You may have heard the term “wet reckless.” Wet reckless is a term sometimes used if a driver is charged with driving while under the influence (DWI) of alcohol or other substances, but can plea bargain the conviction down to reckless driving only in criminal court.
In other words, the “wet” is an informal term for alcohol, and is only used in the conjunction between a DWI charge and plea bargaining. Knowing the at-fault driver may have been DWI can help when your attorney argues your civil claim for damages, however.
How Can I Receive Compensation for My Injuries in a Reckless Driving Accident?
If you are injured in a vehicle accident caused by a reckless driver, you are entitled to seek compensation for the injuries directly caused by the accident.
You can do this in one of several ways. The most common is to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Texas is a “fault” state for vehicle crash purposes, meaning that the party that causes the crash is responsible for paying the victims for the injuries and harm caused by the accident. (This is different from the system in “no-fault” states, in which all drivers are mandated to carry insurance which covers them in the event of an accident.)
All Texas drivers are mandated to show proof of financial responsibility in case of an accident. This is most commonly done by purchasing insurance that will compensate victims for injuries, time lost from work (up to a certain amount), and property damage.
You can also submit medical bills to your own insurance company, noting that they are from an accident. Your insurance company will then approach the at-fault driver’s insurance company for reimbursement.
Finally, you can bring a car accident lawsuit in civil court. Lawsuits are sometimes a valuable method of forcing insurance companies to come to a just settlement with victims. Judges and juries can independently assess the evidence and they often have much more sympathy for victims than insurance claims adjusters.
What Compensation Is Allowable?
Injured accident victims can seek compensation in the following categories:
- Medical bills, both present and future – For emergency room treatment, ambulance transport, hospitalization, diagnostic tests, surgery, doctor’s appointments, physical therapy, prescription medication, and more.
- Income lost from work – If the accident, treatment, or recuperation requires you to miss time from work.
- The lifetime value of earnings – If your injuries render you unable to work again at a former occupation.
- Personal property damage – For personal property damaged or lost in the accident, such as a car.
- Pain and suffering – For pain and suffering arising from physical, mental, or emotional causes, including mental anguish and loss of consortium.
Losses in the first four categories are arrived at by adding up the financial loss you’ve suffered (such as adding together all the medical bills or determining the amount of income you had to forfeit).
Pain and suffering losses are determined by assessing the overall severity of your injuries and their effect on your life. Extremely serious injuries, such as catastrophic injuries, often justify significant pain and suffering amounts because the accident hurts the victim’s life for the long term.
Recourse if a Loved One Died
Tragically, some reckless driving accidents end in death. While no monetary settlement can compensate you for the loss of a loved one, the law does recognize that a death causes financial duress as well as emotional pain. You may face large medical bills, funeral expenses, and the loss of a breadwinner’s income—as well as the support of their love and companionship.
To compensate family members whose loved one perished in an accident caused by a reckless driver, certain family members are eligible to bring a type of lawsuit called wrongful death. A wrongful death claim is allowable if the deceased person could have brought a car accident claim had they lived.
In Texas, the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person may file a wrongful death claim. If a parent dies in a reckless driving accident, their adult children can file a wrongful death claim. Adopted children can file a wrongful death claim for the death of an adoptive parent, and adoptive parents can file a claim for an adopted child killed in a reckless driving crash. Under Lone Star State statutes, siblings cannot file a wrongful death claim. Each person can bring a claim individually, or they may file a claim as a group.
If these individuals don’t file a claim within three months of their loved one’s death, the personal representative or executor of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death claim instead.
Wrongful death suit claimants can seek these damages:
- Lost earning capacity of the deceased;
- Lost care, maintenance, services, support, advice, and counsel the deceased would have provided had they lived;
- Mental and emotional anguish, pain, and suffering; and
- Lost love and companionship.
If you have any further questions or require further information about a reckless driving accident, contact an experienced attorney.