The vast majority of personal injury claims proceed on a theory of negligence. However, in some cases, the defendant’s conduct might be labeled reckless. To the average person, these terms might sound like the same thing—however, they have distinct legal meanings. Your attorney will decide which theory is most suitable for your case.


The Legal Information Institute defines legal negligence as “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.  This behavior usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act (e.g., a duty to help victims of one’s previous conduct).”

A person doesn’t need to understand that they’re acting carelessly to be legally negligent. For example, a doctor accused of medical malpractice might not realize they are amputating the wrong limb in the moment—but when compared to what a reasonable doctor would have done in the same circumstances (i.e., repeatedly verify which limb needs to be removed), they are clearly not exercising the same standard of care.


If a defendant’s conduct is reckless, it’s considered “[b]ehavior that is so careless that it is considered an extreme departure from the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances.”

Reckless behavior implies that the person knowingly participated in behavior that any reasonable person would have known was inappropriate or dangerous. For example, drinking and getting behind the wheel is reckless. Every driver in America (if not the world) knows that drinking and driving can result in severe injury or death. If a driver gets behind the wheel after drinking heavily, they know that their conduct could have devastating consequences.

Why Does it Matter?

The reason personal injury lawyers make a distinction between negligence and recklessness is that it is often prudent to show the defendant knew their behavior was dangerous. If an attorney is asking the jury for noneconomic damages, this may encourage them to award a higher amount. The judge or jury may also award punitive damages, which are designed to punish a defendant for their actions. Punitive damages are usually only awarded when a defendant’s conduct is so egregious that the judge feels the defendant needs to provide additional compensation. Proving a defendant acted recklessly can help reach this threshold.

Call an Ohio Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you’ve been injured as a result of someone’s negligence or recklessness, you may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. I’ll Make Them Pay!® Call my office at 877.614.9524 today to discuss your case.

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