Car accidents are a common occurrence. Recently, in fact, in San Jose, 5,394 people were injured or killed due to traffic-related crashes. While many factors cause car accidents, one of the most common is reckless driving. If you’ve been injured in an accident due to a reckless driver, you should seek compensation for your injuries and the expenses that resulted. An experienced car accident lawyer can provide answers to your legal questions and determine your eligibility to seek compensation for your injuries following an accident.
What Is Reckless Driving?
California defines reckless driving as “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” when operating a motor vehicle. Reckless driving is actually considered a misdemeanor criminal offense that is punishable by jail time, fines, and suspension of an offender’s driver’s license, among other penalties. Driving behaviors are considered reckless if done with a disregard to the safety of others, including:
- Speeding far over the posted limit. Or what is safe for the conditions of the road. In a recent year more than 1,400 injuries and fatalities in San Jose traffic crashes involved excessive speed. Many drivers think or act as if arriving on time for an appointment is more important than the safety of other individuals on the road; others simply do not care enough about safety to drive appropriately.
- Engaging in a speed contest. In May, San Jose passed a law making it illegal to even watch a street race or a sideshow. Doing so is now a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Those caught within 200 feet of a “reckless driving exhibition” on a public roadway or in a parking lot can be charged. The bill was in response to a string of injuries and fatalities related to street racing in San Jose.
- Evading a peace officer. For example, two suspects in a stolen minivan drove recklessly through the streets of Los Angeles as they attempted to evade police. Because the suspects were driving in such a way that endangered the safety of others on the road, the police backed off of the chase and simply tracked the two offenders, who eventually got out of the vehicle and fled on foot through an industrial area and were ultimately apprehended about an hour after the pursuit began.
- Unsafe passing. A Sonora woman was sentenced for her role in an incident in which her husband was accused of killing three people. The collision occurred when the man attempted to pass another vehicle on a double yellow line. A vehicle approaching from the opposite direction swerved to avoid colliding with the man’s vehicle and overturned, colliding with the offender’s vehicle. The man at fault was sentenced for his crimes, which included reckless driving causing bodily injury. He is currently serving more than five years in state prison. His wife was convicted of helping him conceal evidence of the crime, in addition to other charges. She was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
- “Wet” reckless driving. Which is driving dangerously while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In northern Antelope Valley, a man suspected of reckless DUI and involved in a police chase stole a California Highway Patrol vehicle and a Toyota truck, drove dangerously down the 14 Freeway and into the desert, before wrecking the truck and taking off on foot. He was eventually cornered by police in the desert and now faces additional charges, including theft of a police vehicle and assaulting a deputy.
Any irregular driving practice may constitute recklessness if they reflect a disregard for safety. Aggressive driving behaviors are defined as those that involve carelessly or recklessly operating a motor vehicle with disregard for the safety of others. Additional examples of this type of behavior include:
- Following too closely, also known as tailgating
- Improper or erratic lane changing
- Illegal driving on the shoulder, median, ditch, or sidewalk
- Erratically or recklessly operating a vehicle, or suddenly changing speeds
- Failure to yield the right-of-way
- Failure to obey traffic signals, signs, and traffic safety zone laws
- Failure to signal
- Making an improper turn
If You Were Injured by a Reckless Driver
Reckless driving is a crime in California, meaning that an individual caught engaging in reckless driving, or who causes an accident while driving recklessly that injures or kills someone, faces criminal penalties if convicted. Reckless drivers can also be found liable in civil court and forced to pay for the damages they cause others.
If you were injured by a reckless driver, you should seek compensation for your injuries via a third-party claim with the reckless driver’s insurance company. If the insurance company fails to offer a settlement that provides fair compensation, you also have the right obtain fair compensation by filing an auto accident lawsuit. Some highlights of California personal injury law include:
- The statute of limitations for starting your car accident lawsuit is generally two years from the date of the accident. Some cases have a different deadline, including those filed against city, county, or state agencies; thus, consult an experienced car accident attorney regarding the statute of limitations that applies to your specific circumstances.
- If you were driving at the time of an incident, you can only seek non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering-type damages) if at the time of the collision you have auto insurance. If you were driving without insurance at the time of your accident, non-economic damages are generally prohibited.
Contacting an experienced car accident attorney is the best way to get your legal questions answered and to understand the options that are available to you after an accident caused by a reckless driver.