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The Difference Between Negligence and Recklessness and Why It Matters

Posted On January 18, 2021

The difference between negligence and recklessness is important in regards to punitive damages in an Illinois injury accident. Most injury claims will involve negligence, which will generally allow the victims to recover compensatory damages to pay for their economic and non-economic losses. When a defendant has acted recklessly, however, punitive damages may be available in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate accident victims. Instead, they are designed to punish defendants whose actions were particularly egregious. 

What Is Negligence?

People are expected to act in a similar way as a reasonable person who exercises ordinary caution in a specific situation. Negligence occurs when someone’s actions fall below the reasonableness standard and breach the duty of care that is owed to others. When a person negligently breaches his or her duty to act with reasonable care and caution and causes another person’s foreseeable injury, he or she may be liable to pay compensatory damages. 

What Is Recklessness?

Recklessness is a type of action that goes beyond negligence. While the person might not have meant to hurt anyone, his or her actions are such that there was a substantial likelihood of injuries. Recklessness includes a complete indifference to the safety of other people. To prove that a defendant acted recklessly, the victim will need to prove negligence as well as that the defendant acted with a conscious and callous disregard of the victim’s safety. Some examples of recklessness include the following:

  • Drunk driving
  • Failing to keep fire safety devices in a nightclub or restaurant
  • An unqualified doctor performing surgery
  • Texting while driving
  • Driving the wrong way on an interstate
  • Speeding more than 35 mph over the speed limit

When these and other types of callousness are evident in a case, the victim might be eligible to receive punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.

Compensatory and Punitive Damages

Compensatory damages are monetary awards to compensate injury accident victims for their pecuniary and non-economic losses. The idea is to place the victim in the position he or she was in before the accident. When punitive damages are ordered, they are given on top of the victim’s compensatory damages. Punitive damages are only ordered when the defendant’s conduct was outrageous. Victims who prove the defendant acted recklessly may be entitled to punitive damages, meaning that their recoveries may be substantially higher.

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