Each state has its own definition of reckless driving. However, it all comes down to negligence and violating the duty of care a driver has for others on the road. When someone drives recklessly, the risk of crashing increases significantly. In Wisconsin and Minnesota, reckless driving is a crime. While the defendant of the car accident might face charges in traffic court, you must file a claim against the at-fault driver in civil court to recover damages, including medical expenses and losses.
Reckless Driving in Minnesota
If the police charge a person with reckless driving in Minnesota, the driver could face those charges in criminal and traffic court. If the court finds that the driver consciously disregarded the risk of causing harm to others on the road, it could charge the driver with a misdemeanor. If the court finds that the driver caused great bodily harm or death, the court could charge the driver with a gross misdemeanor.
The police could also charge the driver for careless driving. The difference between reckless driving and careless driving is that careless driving means operating a motor vehicle carelessly or “heedlessly in disregard to the rights of others.” Additionally, if a court determines that the driver’s behavior was “likely to endanger any property or person,” it could charge the driver for careless driving, which is a misdemeanor.
Reckless Driving in Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s definition of reckless driving is similar to that of Minnesota; however, it defines reckless driving as endangering the safety of a person or property by driving negligently.
Examples of Reckless Driving
If the police charge you with reckless driving after an accident, they might have determined that you were:
- Speeding or excessively speeding.
- Weaving in and out of traffic to get ahead of slower traffic.
- Passing on a double yellow line.
- Running a traffic control signal.
- Following too closely.
- “Pushing,” or tailgating.
- Exhibiting signs of road rage, such as swerving within your lane in an attempt to intimidate other drivers.
- Unlawful passing.
- Unlawful passing of a school bus.
- Texting and driving.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If the criminal / traffic court finds the at-fault driver guilty of reckless driving, it helps your case. You will still have to prove negligence, but it is—in most cases—easier to do if the driver has a conviction.
Since proving negligence is complicated, it is always best to retain a motor vehicle accident attorney if you are in a reckless driving accident. You must prove the four legal elements of negligence in order to be successful in recovering damages for your injuries and losses.
The four elements of negligence are a duty of care, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty of care: Every driver has a duty of care to drive carefully and not increase the risk of an accident that could injure others on the road.
- Breach: A driver breaches his or her duty of care to you by driving recklessly.
- Causation: The driver’s actions or inactions must have caused the accident.
- Damages: You must have suffered injuries because of the driver’s actions or in actions—in this case, reckless driving.
An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney reviews your medical records, the vehicle accident investigation, police reports, speaks to witnesses, and reviews other evidence to show that the defendant’s actions or inactions were negligent.
Your attorney might also ask expert witnesses for reports, including medical reports and forensic accident reconstruction reports.
Reckless Driving Accident Injuries
The injuries you might sustain because of a reckless driver vary widely depending on the accident circumstances.
Speed, the size of the vehicles, the number of vehicles, and the way a vehicle hits your vehicle factor into the type and severity of the injuries you might sustain.
Injuries could include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scratches, and scrapes.
- Road rash.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled or torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Ear injuries, including deafness, in the event of an explosion.
You could also sustain secondary injuries, such as infections of open wounds or bacterial infections you picked up in the hospital. The at-fault driver is also responsible for secondary injuries.
The at-fault driver is also responsible for medical expenses and the pain and suffering you suffer because accident injuries exacerbate an existing injury or illness.
What to Do After a Reckless Driving Accident
In many cases, a reckless driving accident victim shouldn’t move, as it could cause additional injuries. If you are unsure, wait until the emergency medical technicians check you. It’s better to be safe instead of sorry. However, if you believe you can move around without causing additional injury, you can take several steps to help with your case investigation.
The best time to gather evidence for an accident investigation is immediately after an accident—before the weather, traffic, the police, or the reckless driver can destroy the evidence. In most cases, the parties destroy evidence inadvertently. However, in some cases, the reckless driver could purposely destroy evidence.
If you can move around without causing further injury:
- Check on others involved in the accident and call first responders.
- Obtain the driver’s license, contact, insurance, and registration information. If possible, take pictures of the documents and the driver’s license plate. If the driver is a commercial driver, also take down the information from the driver’s commercial driver’s license.
- Obtain contact information from witnesses. You can also ask witnesses what they saw.
- Take photos of the accident scene. Be sure to take pictures of all angles, including the sides without damage. Also, take photos of any damage to the road and nearby property.
- Allow emergency medical technicians to check you, even if you believe your injuries are minor.
- Give your statement to the police officer.
- As soon as the police release you from the accident scene, seek medical attention. Since some injuries do not manifest for hours or even days later, let the medical professionals know that you were in a wreck.
- Contact a car accident attorney so the firm can start investigating your case. You do not need money to retain a reckless driving accident attorney. Case evaluations are free and without obligation, and we work on a contingency basis—you only pay if we win your case for you.
While taking these actions can help your cases, you should never:
- Post on social media. Do not talk about or post pictures of the accident.
- Post your activities. Insurance companies prowl social media accounts. They want to make sure your injuries are as bad as you say. An insurance company could use a photo of you and a family member out for an innocent dinner against you by stating that your injuries are not that bad if you can go out to eat.
- Talk to the insurance company without your lawyer. It’s best if your attorney reports the accident, but if you feel you should report the accident as soon as possible, only give the insurance company your name and contact information, the date and location of the wreck, and your attorney’s contact information.
Finally, always keep every medical appointment unless you have an emergency, such as an illness that might prevent you from visiting a medical professional. Insurance companies keep track of your appointments and will “assume” that your injuries are not as serious as you say if you miss doctors’ appointments.
Recovering Damages After a Reckless Driving Accident
Wisconsin and Minnesota allow two types of damages—compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages have two categories—economic and non-economic damages. The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. However, the court only orders punitive damages as a punishment to the defendant—not to make you whole again.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and include:
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might have a few doctors’ appointments to pay for, or you could have a host of medical expenses, including therapies.
Medical expenses you could recover include:
- Appointments with doctors and other medical professionals.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Cognitive therapy appointments.
- Physical therapy appointments.
- Occupational therapy appointments.
- Psychological therapy appointments. Some accident victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression after an accident. Those who develop depression and anxiety often have long-term or permanent disabilities caused by accident injuries. Post-traumatic stress disorder could develop within days or months after an accident. Always watch for signs and see a medical professional if you or a family member notices changes in your behavior.
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
- Ambulatory aids.
- Hand controls for your vehicle.
- Upgrades to your home, including widened doorways, wheelchair ramps, handrails, and grab bars.
Even minor injuries could keep you out of work for a few days. If you have to miss work because of an accident, you could recover compensation to pay for those missed days. If you have long-term or permanent injuries, you could collect compensation from the time of the wreck until your retirement.
Even if you go back to work but can only work part-time, or can your injuries force you to work in a job that doesn’t pay as much as you were paid prior to the wreck, you could recover partial loss of earning capacity.
You could recover compensation for personal property after a motor vehicle accident. The defendant is responsible for paying for repairs or replacement of your vehicle and anything of value that might have been destroyed or damaged in the wreck, including cell phones, computers, school books, and dry cleaning.
Suppose you lost a loved one because of a reckless driver. In that case, you could recover compensation for funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, certain probate court expenses, or probate attorney’s fees and costs.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value and include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes, including but not limited to taking prescriptions and using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or an arm.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your bladder, eyesight, or hearing.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, including but not limited to house cleaning, grocery shopping, home maintenance and repair, and lawn maintenance.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Excessive scarring or disfigurement.
While Wisconsin and Minnesota handle compensatory damages in a similar manner, the two states have different laws for punitive damages. In both states, the court must award compensatory damages in order for you to move for punitive damages. Thus, the trial is bifurcated—in two parts. The court hears punitive damage testimony after the jury rules on compensatory damages.
You often use the same jury and judge. While this process causes a trial to take longer, in some cases, it is worth the extra time to recover punitive damages.
The difference is that Wisconsin limits its punitive damage awards to double the amount of compensatory damages or $200,000, whichever is greater, while Minnesota does not.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a reckless driving accident, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.