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Reckless Endangerment (Legal Definition: All You Need To Know)

What is Reckless Endangerment?

How do you legally define it?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our criminal law knowledge and legal dictionary!

Are you ready?

Let’s get started!

What Is Reckless Endangerment

Reckless endangerment is a term used to refer to acts or omissions constituting crimes under criminal laws exposing another to serious risk of injury or physical harm.

For an act, behavior, conduct, or omission to be considered as “reckless endangerment”, the offender’s intention to cause harm is not relevant to the crime.

What’s relevant is that the accused acted or behaved in a way that exposed others to a substantial risk of severe physical injury.

For example, under the New York penal code, “reckless” behavior is defined as a criminal act or conduct that:

  • Creates an unjustifiable risk of serious physical injury to another person
  • The accused is aware that will expose others to serious risk and disregards the risks
  • Constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct of a reasonable person 

The NY reckless endangerment statute then defines physical injury to include:

  • Loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ 
  • Protracted impairment of health 
  • Protracted and serious disfigurement
  • An impairment of a person’s physical condition which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death 

Legal Definition

What does reckless endangerment mean?

How do you define reckless endangerment?

Reckless endangerment is a type of “endangerment” crime whereby the offender’s wrongful action, conduct, or behavior is likely to expose others to a significant risk of bodily injury or even death.

This type of criminal offense is designed to prohibit reckless or wanton conduct exposing others to serious injury.

Criminal Intention 

When dealing with a reckless conduct charge, it’s important to consider the criminal intent aspect of the crime.

In criminal law, the prosecutor has a duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused “acted” in a criminal way and had the “intention” to act in that fashion (this is referred to as the criminal intent or mens rea).

However, for a person to be convicted of a reckless endangerment crime, the prosecutor must prove that the accused acted carelessly and did not care for the foreseeable consequence of his or her actions.


A reckless endangerment charge may be filed against a person in the context of domestic abuse cases, car accidents, child abuse, or other types of abuse such as nursing home abuse or hospital abuse.

In the United States, an endangerment charge can go from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the state laws and circumstances of the crime.

For example, in the state of Washington, under Section 9A.36.050 Revised Code of Washington, “A person is guilty of reckless endangerment when he or she recklessly engages in conduct not amounting to drive-by shooting but that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person”.

The law defines reckless endangerment to be a gross misdemeanor. 

Legal Defense

Every case will have unique elements a criminal defense attorney will consider when preparing a defense.

Typically, a person charged with felony reckless endangerment, misdemeanor endangerment or any type of criminal endangerment charge may file a defense by establishing that:

  • The act or behavior did not expose others to risk or the victim was not exposed to serious physical injury or death (depending on the charge)
  • The severity of risk or injury does not reach the level of seriousness required for a person to be found guilty of this crime 


The sentence or punishment for criminal reckless endangerment can vary based on the facts of the case and other factors.

For example, in the state of Tennessee, the charge can be classified from a Class A misdemeanor all the way to a Class C felony.

The reckless endangerment law in Tennessee provides for Class A misdemeanor to be punished by imprisonment and fines that are not greater than eleven months and twenty-nine days in jail or a fine of $2,500 (or both).

In New York, life endangerment crimes can be classified as Class A misdemeanor or Class D felony.

Reckless endangerment felony charges will tend to have a more severe sentence than reckless engagement misdemeanor charges.

The court will also consider the history of the offender to determine the most appropriate sentence to issue.

In Alabama, a person arrested for this offense can face a Class A misdemeanor charge exposing the offender to a jail sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $6,000.


What are some examples of reckless endangerment crimes?

Many behaviors can lead to a reckless endangerment accusation or charge, such as:

  • Reckless endangerment driving
  • Placing a child in a potentially harmful situation through negligence or misconduct
  • Placing an animal in a potentially harmful situation 
  • Discharging a firearm
  • Drag racing 
  • Drinking and driving 
  • Driving at high speeds
  • Eluding the police 

What’s more, the accusation of “reckless endangerment” does not necessarily involve a victim.

If the law enforcement officer considers that a person’s conduct exposes others to a serious risk of suffering injuries, the individual may be arrested and charged.

Reckless Assault vs Reckless Endangerment

The terms reckless assault and reckless endangerment are often used interchangeably although they mean different things.

Typically, an assault charge consists of a deliberate or intentional act intended to knowingly cause bodily harm to another or cause the other person to fear bodily harm.

A more serious type of assault charge is aggravated assault where the assault occurs with a weapon.

Reckless endangerment involves an act or behavior that can potentially cause bodily harm to another.

Although every jurisdiction will have its own statutory definition of reckless endangerment, you will typically find different types of endangerment charges such as public endangerment, child endangerment, or animal endangerment.

Reckless Endangerment Takeaways 

So, what is the definition of reckless endangerment? 

What is criminal endangerment?

Is reckless endangerment a felony?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Reckless Endangerment:

  • Reckless endangerment is a type of crime where a person is accused of acting or behaving in a way exposing others to a high risk of bodily harm
  • There are different types of “endangerment” crimes such as public endangerment, child endangerment, animal endangerment, and reckless endangerment 
  • Many acts or omissions can be considered as “reckless” leading to a misdemeanor or felony charge such as reckless driving, putting a child’s life in danger, misusing a firearm, evading the police using a vehicle, hospital abuse, nursing home abuse, and more 
  • An accused can attempt to defend against such a charge by establishing that others were not exposed to serious risk of physical injury even if the alleged conduct was true (factual impossibility) or the prosecution did not establish the proper degree of injury (the crime requires the risk of “serious” physical injuries)
Child endangerment 
Crown prosecutor 
Defense lawyer
Depraved-heart murder
Double jeopardy 
Jury selection 
Property crimes
Public endangerment
Unlawful imprisonment 
Violent crimes
Wanton endangerment
Compensatory damages
Criminal negligence 
Culpable negligence
Disorderly conduct 
General damages 
Medical expenses 
Negligent homicide 
Personal injury claim 
Property damage
Punitive damages

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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