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Reckless Endangerment: A Legal Definition

Updated July 2, 2024 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Injuries that could have been prevented or avoided are some of the most unfortunate. You may have a case for compensation if you sustained an injury or were almost injured because someone else put you in harm’s way. Whether that individual did so intentionally or unintentionally, you may be able to pursue damages for endangerment if their actions led—or could have led—directly to harm or injury. Reckless endangerment is a criminal offense that can apply in auto accidents, assaults, medical malpractice, and many other situations that involve injuries.

Consulting with the experienced personal injury attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham can help you understand your rights and navigate the legal process to seek the justice and compensation you deserve. Additionally, collecting evidence promptly and documenting all related expenses can strengthen your case and improve your chances of a successful outcome.


What Is a Reckless Endangerment Charge?

Reckless endangerment is a criminal offense when a person acts dangerously or negligently, putting others’ lives at risk. Those charged with reckless endangerment may face serious repercussions, including felony or misdemeanor charges and fines or jail time.

Types of Endangerment

Endangerment encompasses more than just committing crimes; it can also refer to certain cases of negligence. Whether the victim was put into danger intentionally or by accident, they may still have a case for compensation.

Intentional Endangerment

Intentional endangerment is usually a crime. A person who intentionally endangers another may face criminal charges and may be sued for damages by their victim. Examples of intentional endangerment include:

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • Reckless driving

While crimes rarely leave any ambiguity about who is responsible, you may want help from a lawyer when determining the amount of benefits you should pursue. Experienced attorneys may be able to inform you of certain obscure or future expenses you weren’t previously aware of.

Accidental Endangerment

Unintentional or accidental endangerment generally involves negligence. A person who may not mean any harm can still endanger another person through careless actions or inaction. Examples of this type of endangerment include:

  • Certain types of medical malpractice
  • A store owner failing to warn of slippery floors with appropriate signage
  • A distracted driver who rear-ends another motorist

In cases of negligence, liability typically must be proven. If you sustained an injury or were put in harm’s way as a result of someone else’s negligent actions, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to begin an investigation. We can help you demonstrate why you deserve financial compensation.

Examples of Endangerment vs. Reckless Driving

While reckless endangerment and reckless driving may sometimes overlap, these terms are not used interchangeably in Indiana. As previously mentioned, reckless endangerment can include any actions that directly endanger another individual. 

Reckless driving is a term used for motorists that are putting others in danger by driving in an aggressive or careless manner. To better understand the difference, let’s look at three different examples. 

Example 1: An Indiana resident is at a Fourth of July celebration and decides to shoot their handgun into the air during a fireworks show. Even if they are not shooting illegally, they are endangering other individuals at the celebration because those bullets will eventually fall back to the ground. This is an example of reckless endangerment that does not overlap with reckless driving.

Example 2: An Indiana motorist is driving alone on the highway very late at night. They are going 30 miles per hour over the speed limit and weaving between lanes with no signal. They drive past an officer who pulls them over and finds out that they are driving under the influence of alcohol. 

Instead of charging the driver with multiple traffic infractions, they may use reckless driving as a catch-all to indicate the dangers that were present. Although this could also be considered endangerment, the officer has discretion to arrest the driver on reckless driving charges if nobody was harmed. 

Example 3: If everything from the second example was the same except the driver had a child in the backseat of their car, they would be charged with reckless endangerment. The punishment for reckless endangerment is more severe than reckless driving and a judge will choose one or the other depending on the circumstances.

Reckless Endangerment Penalties in Indiana

Indiana has laws to try and prevent residents from driving dangerously on the road. Reckless driving by a first-time violator can be a Class B misdemeanor of up to $1,000 in fines and 180 days of jail time. License suspension is also possible for up to a year.

For passing a school bus, an offender can face a Class A misdemeanor of up to $5,000 in fines and a year in jail, as well as possible license suspension.

Individuals who commit criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon or by causing serious injury to another person when driving aggressively can be charged with a level 6 felony. Level 6 felonies can result in a jail sentence between six months and 2.5 years with a fine up to $10,000.

Individuals who commit criminal recklessness by shooting a firearm into a location where people are likely to gather or by causing another person’s death while driving aggressively can be charged with a level 5 felony. Level 5 felonies can result in a jail sentence between 1-6 years and a fine up to $10,000.

These penalties are outlined within Indiana Code 9-21-8 of Indiana State Law. 

Further legal issues can occur if the reckless party is in the process of trying to immigrate to the United States. If they are not a U.S. citizen, a reckless endangerment conviction can completely alter their status within the United States. Additionally, a charge of reckless endangerment can also affect someone’s reputation, job prospects, and limit their chances of receiving financial aid.

Although Indiana has solid punishments for those who drive recklessly, these repercussions do not help you (the victim) get back on your feet. If you are looking to recover financial damages reach out to our team for legal assistance.

Reach Out to WKW to Speak With an Experienced Injury Accident Attorney in Indianapolis

WKW’s dedicated team of lawyers has been recognized and rewarded for their work. Three of our attorneys have been named to the Indiana Super Lawyers list, two of whom have been included in the Top 10 Indiana Super Lawyers list.

We will use our 30+ years of practice to investigate and analyze every part of your reckless endangerment case to ensure you get the assistance you need. Whether your case is negotiated at settlement or brought to trial, WKW is ready to defend your rights against negligent or criminal offenders.

The attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham will show no fear in going after those guilty of endangerment. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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