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Negligence vs Recklessness

Negligence and recklessness are both legal concepts that pertain to different levels of culpability in tort law and criminal law.


Negligence is the failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under similar circumstances. It involves a lack of ordinary care that leads to harm or damage to another party. The standard for negligence is an objective one, comparing the defendant's actions to what a reasonable person would have done in a similar situation. For example, if a driver fails to stop at a red light and causes a car accident, the driver may be held liable for negligence if a reasonable person would have stopped.


Recklessness involves knowingly taking a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a reasonable person would not take. It goes beyond mere negligence and implies a conscious disregard for the potential harm caused by one's actions. The standard for recklessness is subjective, focusing on the defendant's awareness of the risk and their decision to proceed despite that awareness. For example, if someone drives at high speeds through a residential area, knowing the risk of causing an accident, and ends up injuring someone, they may be deemed reckless.

In summary, negligence is a failure to meet the standard of care expected of a reasonable person, whereas recklessness involves a conscious and unjustifiable disregard for a known risk. Negligence is often associated with civil liability, while recklessness can lead to both civil and criminal liability, depending on the legal context.

Check out our exam-focused Criminal Law and Tort Law notes now.

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