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Could You Be Charged With Recklessly Endangering Another Person?

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In an article last week, I wrote about a recent Pennsylvania decision involving a mechanic's conviction of Recklessly Endangering Another Person and Involuntary Manslaughter after he had failed to fix the brakes on a van transporting special needs students. While the van was heading down a steep Pittsburgh hill, the brakes failed, the van smashed into a tree, and three of the passengers were  hurt while a fourth was killed. In the case, the man was convicted and sentenced to spend the next 2 ½ to have 5 years in prison followed by another 5 years of probation.

The man appealed his convictions and argued that there was not sufficient evidence that he had acted "recklessly," and therefore his convictions must be vacated. "Recklessly" is legally defined as consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustified risk that something will happen. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that it involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the actor's situation. The appellate court found that the man acted recklessly under the circumstances and affirmed his convictions.

Could You Be Charged With Recklessly Endangering Another Person?

I understand that many people assume that this case would have no impact on them. Initially, I somewhat thought the same thing, but I started to think more about how this could unfold. For example, what if some other mechanic forgot to check brake lights during an inspection and the car was later involved in an accident in which the malfunctioning brake lights were suspected to be a factor in the crash? The mechanic had failed to check a light bulb as part of a routine inspection. What if a carpenter or electrician didn't do something completely correct in a home, and something happened that caused an injury to the homeowner? In these scenarios, the oversights were accidental, but do they rise to the level of reckless? Did their failures constitute a gross deviation from what most tradesmen would have done and thereby constitute "reckless" behavior? I expect that people would respond and state that my scenarios involved professionals, and professional tradesmen are expected to provide services in a safe manner. A failure to do so should result in criminal liability. This all sounds good unless your spouse happens to be a tradesman.

"DIY" or Do It Yourself - Is Ignorance Also Reckless?

How about we change the hypotheticals to situations that may have a broader impact? While I am a criminal defense lawyer, I also try my hand at some limited carpentry work around the house. For other do-it-yourselfers out there, what if you attempted to fix your own car, your own house, or build a tree house and something goes wrong that causes injury to your own family. Clearly, this would have been a tragic accident, an accident for which you bear the personal pain of knowing that your failure led to the injury of someone close to you. Imagine having a district attorney then prosecute you for Recklessly Endangering Another Person. The prosecution would argue that you consciously disregarded a risk and that your efforts were a gross deviation based upon the fact that you didn't know what you were doing. You may have tried your best and followed the recommendations of professionals, which would probably be a legitimate defense, but having a defense doesn't mean that you couldn't be charged and thereby need the services of a criminal defense attorney. Everyone says that this would never happen to me, but unexpected things do happen.

I also considered the many garbage trucks and mail delivery persons that are parked along the side of the road at times, and the people who routinely pass those parked vehicles at high rates of speed and pass into the opposing lane of travel with little regard for oncoming traffic. In these situations, the on coming  traffic generally saw the stopped vehicle and either slowed down or was prepared to move onto the berm of the road to avoid a collision. What if you were passing the stopped vehicle and honestly thought that you could make the pass safely, but were struck by an oncoming vehicle? In this accident, could you be charged with Recklessly Endangering Another Person? Could the operator of the parked vehicle be charged as well? It could be argued that both the passing driver and the driver of the vehicle parked along the road understood that their actions created an unjustified risk that an accident would occur.

These cases would need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to see if criminal charges were warranted. Ultimately, the decision would be made by the police, possibly with input from the district attorney's office. The point of this article was simply to show people that good people are sometimes brought into the criminal justice system for making a mistake, and such a mistake could land you or a loved within the scope of a criminal prosecution. If you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney before you make any statements to the police.

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