Reckless driving is a serious public health risk to all Floridians. Whether you are a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclists, or pedestrian, your life can be placed in danger by a reckless driver, which is why it is so important to hold reckless drivers accountable for the injuries and losses they cause. If a reckless driver has injured you or a loved one, be sure to call the Nicoletti Law Firm for a free consultation as soon as possible. We fight hard to protect the legal rights of all Florida injury victims.
Our experienced reckless driving lawyers have prepared this guide to answer some of the most common questions we receive about reckless driving cases. We hope this helps you learn more about your case and feel better prepared for what will happen. The more information you have about your case, the better you protect your legal rights from attacks by the defendant’s insurance company.
What Is Reckless Driving?
Unlike civil traffic infractions (such as speeding or failing to yield), reckless driving is a crime, meaning that the reckless driver could face criminal charges in a criminal court in a case that is completely separate from a civil claim you may have for your injuries. Criminal charges are strong evidence of negligence, meaning that you will have a stronger claim against the driver if the law charges them with negligence.
Florida statutes define reckless driving as driving any vehicle in “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” a very broad definition. It covers all vehicles, including trucks, cars, motorcycles, tractors, and other motor vehicles. It also covers any behavior that could endanger other people or their property.
Reckless driving can include such dangerous behaviors as:
- Running red lights
- Changing lanes without signaling
- Excessive speeding
- Yelling, flashing headlights, and other signs of road rage
As you can imagine, these behaviors occur in many of the auto accidents that injure thousands of people across Florida every year. But just how likely is it that you will sustain an injury in an accident caused by a reckless driver?
How Common Is Reckless Driving?
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports that nearly half a million car accidents in Florida in 2018. A total of 3,135 people died in 403,626 accidents. While the Department did not report the number of reckless driving citations that were issued that year, most likely, many of these accidents involved some form of reckless driving. Many auto accidents involve high rates of speed, or distracted driving, or driver impairment. All of these behaviors can be considered reckless driving.
Even if the police did not issue a citation or the prosecutor must dismiss the charge, a reckless driver can still be held accountable for the financial damages they have caused on the civil side. An injury victim can enforce this legal right by filing a claim against the reckless driver’s auto insurance coverage or, if necessary, filing a lawsuit against the reckless driver.
These claims are possible in cases involving serious injuries that meet the threshold for third-party auto insurance claims in Florida. With such serious injuries, it is easy for losses to exceed personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, making a third-party claim necessary to reach full financial recovery.
Other Crimes That Commonly Occur With Reckless Driving
Reckless driving is not the only crime committed with a vehicle. Often there are multiple criminal charges that an individual can file against a driver for the same accident. For example, some reckless drivers try to flee the scene of the accident, considered a hit and run (a separate crime).
A hit and run also looks bad in a civil case. The driver’s insurance company might be more likely to accept liability if their insured driver fled the scene. Fleeing the scene makes the driver look guilty, and juries do not look favorably on such behavior. Your settlement offer depends on what a jury is likely to award in your case after trial and, consequently, any factors that would look bad at trial (such as fleeing the scene) also often increase the value of a fair settlement offer.
Another common scenario involves impaired driving. Florida’s drunk driving statute prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or above. If a driver’s blood alcohol concentration is just below this threshold, a prosecutor cannot get a conviction for drunk driving, which is why prosecutors often charge drivers with reckless driving when their blood alcohol concentration is exactly at .08 or just below. (Every breath or blood test has a slight margin of error, so it is difficult to prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt if the defendant’s blood alcohol concentration is at 0.08 exactly.)
Reckless driving charges are also common in marijuana cases. There is no specific level of intoxication at which science has proven marijuana will impair driving, making it difficult to improve impairment beyond a reasonable doubt. It is much easier for a prosecutor to prove that driving with any marijuana in the driver’s system demonstrated disregard for the safety of persons or property. The more charges filed against a driver, the more difficult it is for their insurance company to deny liability for the accident.
What if the Reckless Driving Charge Receives a Dismissal?
There are many reasons why reckless driving charges receive dismissals. The prosecutor might not find the officer who responded to the scene (or other eyewitnesses who saw the reckless driving behavior). There might be a lack of physical evidence of the crime. The prosecution might drop the charge as part of a plea deal, a common tactic used to get a driver to plead guilty to higher charges (such as impaired driving). Regardless of what happens in the criminal court, your civil claim is processed separately, meaning that you can pursue your compensation claim regardless of what happens in the criminal court.
After a reckless driving accident, your attorney will start by opening a claim against the driver’s auto insurance policy. The insurance company will investigate to determine if their driver was, in fact, legally at fault for causing the accident. This fault is known as “liability.” An insurance company is more likely to accept liability when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing.
The court considers police to be third parties who are not on either driver’s side. Because of this, an officer’s decision to issue a citation or file criminal charges is strong evidence of fault that insurance companies find persuasive. Even if an officer does not cite the other driver for reckless driving, there are still ways to prove their negligence to the insurance company.
There might have been eyewitnesses who saw the dangerous driving behaviors. There might be physical evidence, such as skid marks in the road or a photo from a red light camera or speed monitor. Your personal injury lawyer has many ways of proving negligence even if the other driver never receives a conviction for reckless driving.
When Is Reckless Driving Most Likely to Occur?
Many accidents involve reckless driving. Because of this, you can be more at risk of being the victim of a reckless driver at the times when auto accidents are most likely to occur. According to the Insurance Information Institute, recent years saw more deaths on Thanksgiving Day than other holidays (such as New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Christmas). These holidays are dangerous times to be on the road. In one recent year, the holiday with the most deaths was Memorial Day, when 389 victims died on the roads of the United States. 37 percent of that day’s fatalities were in crashes that involved alcohol impairment.
Some months can also be more dangerous than others. Recently, July was the month with the most number of road fatalities in the United States. NHTSA reports that August was the most deadly month the following year. These months correspond with the hundred deadly days of summer, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day when teen drivers are most likely to cause fatal accidents. There are many reasons for this.
New drivers do not have the experience to avoid accidents, and they are often driving more miles in the summer months when they are not in school. Holidays can also lead to an increase in teen drinking. Regardless of the causes, this period is known to be more deadly for everyone on the road. All road users should be on the lookout for drivers who seem inexperienced or unsure of themselves.
Also, be on the lookout for reckless behaviors, such as driving while texting, excessive speeding, or distractions like loud music or rowdy passengers. These behaviors are even more dangerous for teens than older drivers (who should also not engage in them). Young teen drivers have less driving experience, meaning they need even more focus and concentration to safely arrive at their destinations.
Reckless Driving and Road Rage
A common form of reckless driving is road rage. Especially here in Florida, where uncomfortable heat and humidity often compounds with long waits in heavy traffic, some drivers are triggered to become aggressive and make poor driving choices. Safe Motorist reports that aggressive driving causes a shocking 66 percent of road fatalities in the United States. 37 percent of aggressive driving incidents involved firearms, which explains why intentional murders also occur during road rage incidents and not just accidental deaths caused by reckless driving.
So what should you do if you see a driver acting aggressively?
First of all, get as far away as possible. You simply cannot calm this person down. Instead, you should slow down and let the driver get ahead of you. If you are on a bike or walking, try to find another route that is not near this dangerous driver. You do not want to be nearby in the (likely) event that this driver causes an accident. If you need police help, do not hesitate to call 911 and report the driver. Try to get as much information as possible about the vehicle and the driver. The better your description, the easier it will be for officers to find the aggressive driver.
Wrongful Death Claims Against Reckless Drivers
The tragic reality is that not all injury victims will survive their injuries. Reckless driving is fatal in far too many accident cases. When this happens, surviving family members often have a wrongful death claim against the reckless driver. Family members must exercise their legal rights. Civil lawsuits provide financial consequences for reckless driving. Consequences act as a deterrent to other reckless drivers and help keep the roads of Florida safe for everyone.
It can be incredibly difficult for family members and loved ones to pursue a wrongful death claim. They will have to testify about the person they loved and lost. They may face difficult questions from the defense attorney. The defense might even blame the victim for the accident or imply that they contributed to their own death. Although potentially painful, such tactics are, however, a necessary part of a wrongful death case. Your attorney can shut down these inappropriate smear tactics. In the end, a jury can see how much you loved the person who is gone and all the devastating losses that the defendant caused.
You Need an Experienced, Aggressive Car Accident Lawyer
After a reckless driver causes you injuries, you cannot expect to simply receive a check in the mail for your losses. Instead, fight for the compensation that you deserve.
This process is not simple, especially when you are already dealing with medical appointments and your physical recovery. Put your financial recovery in the hands of an experienced car accident attorney. With the right legal help, recovering financially for your losses and injuries is less stressful, and, often, you have a better chance at a favorable outcome.