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Punitive Damages after Car Accidents

Most car accidents involve some form of negligence. When you suffer injuries in an accident caused by another party, you have the right to seek compensation through an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit. Sometimes you can quickly determine fault, and other times, it requires a more thorough investigation that may become more complicated if both parties share responsibility. Even if you share fault, you could still recover some compensation for your losses. You may even seek punitive damages as well.

What Are Punitive Damages?

An award of punitive damages is rare. This type of damages does not compensate the plaintiff for the accident’s physical, emotional, or financial losses. The word “punitive” refers to the infliction of punishment on an at-fault party. In this context, the court may award punitive damages if the responsible party’s actions were so egregious as to warrant punishment beyond simply paying for the victim’s losses.

When Are You Eligible for Punitive Damages?

State law mandates whether or not you can receive punitive damages. Therefore, you would likely benefit from speaking to a car accident attorney about the possibility of punitive damages in your case. Simple negligence is not enough to financially punish the defendant. The states that allow punitive damages generally require:

  • Recklessness, such as driving under the influence
  • Gross negligence, such as playing chicken with other drivers 
  • Complete disregard for human life, such as committing an intentional act to cause harm

Determining whether or not the defendant acted recklessly or with no regard for the well-being of others is sometimes a complex process. Suppose the defendant has faced similar charges in the past. In that case, the likelihood of punishment is significantly higher because punitive damages are designed to deter the responsible driver from continuing that type of behavior. In cases where the driver’s gross negligence leads to the victim’s death, the deceased’s family would likely receive punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

How Does the Jury Determine the Award for Punitive Damages?

There are limitations to the amount a jury can award in punitive damages. The court considers the defendant’s financial state to decide what is appropriate. For example, personal injury cases that involve wrongdoing by a large corporation or a wealthy individual will likely result in a higher payout of punitive damages. Some states limit the amount of punitive damages by placing a cap on the potential award or only allowing an amount appropriately proportionate to the compensatory damages awarded. Punitive damages in the amount of four times the compensatory damages are nearing too much but are still considered constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What Are Other Types of Damages Available After a Car Accident?

The more common type of damages awarded in a car accident car is compensatory damages. Further categorization breaks compensatory damages down into two types: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include the losses that already have monetary value supported by tangible evidence:

  • Medical expenses, including doctor and hospital visits, medications, therapy, surgeries, ambulance expenses, and any future costs for long-term treatment
  • Loss of wages, including future wages if the injury requires continued missed work
  • Loss of earning capacity if the injury results in disability
  • Property damage, including the cost to repair or replace your vehicle 

The non-economic damages are sometimes more challenging to quantify. They have no direct tangible evidence to prove monetary value. Still, a personal injury attorney may use your written statement and testimonies from friends and family to attest to these losses. Non-economic damages include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Losing the ability to enjoy life as you did before the accident
  • Emotional distress or mental anguish, commonly leading to depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disfigurement

In a wrongful death case, a close friend or family member may receive compensation for funeral expenses, lost income that the deceased provided to the plaintiff, lost benefits provided by the deceased, and the loss of companionship.

What Should You Do After a Car Accident?

If you suffered a severe injury in a car accident, there may be little you can do in the immediate aftermath apart from waiting for emergency medical assistance. However, if you are able, you should follow these steps:

  • Avoid talking to anyone at the scene. Car accidents are shocking. You may feel nervous or anxious and start talking without thinking. If you remain quiet, you lessen the risk of saying something that implies you are at fault.
  • Call the police. When the officers arrive, they will investigate the accident and try to determine who is at fault. Additionally, they will file an official police report. You can ask for a copy of that report.
  • Get information from everyone involved. Ask anyone involved, including witnesses, to provide their names and contact information. Take a picture of the driver’s insurance card and license, and ask the investigating officers for their badge numbers.
  • Take photos or videos. Document everything at the accident scene, including your injuries, the license plate on the driver’s vehicle, and damages to both cars. Take a video of the entire scene and explain what happened as you record. As the shock wears off, you may lose some important details. However, the recording may help fill in gaps and offer a visual simultaneously.
  • Go to the emergency room. Even if you do not need emergency help at the scene, you should still seek medical attention after the accident. Adrenaline blocks pain receptors and can mask internal injuries, sometimes for several hours after an accident. You may need treatment before you even realize that you suffered an injury.

Contact a car accident attorney as soon as you can. The statute of limitations for a car accident lawsuit in most states is two years. An attorney can help you file the insurance claim and start negotiations.

What Can a Car Accident Attorney Do for You?

The losses you suffer after a car accident are often devastating, and you should not have to face a lawsuit alone while you try to recover from your injuries. A car accident attorney can help you in several ways:

  • Representing you in negotiations with the insurance company
  • Getting your case ready for trial should the insurer fail to offer a fair settlement amount
  • Employing the assistance of experts, such as accident reconstruction specialists and auto mechanics
  • Collecting the evidence you need to prove the other party’s negligence and support the damages you claim
  • Protecting your rights as you navigate the complex legal process
  • Taking care of the administrative work, such as filling out and filing all the necessary paperwork promptly
  • Ensuring that the insurance adjuster does not try to undervalue your damages
  • Helping you understand all the possible damages from your case

At Fielding Law, our team of car accident attorneys will represent your rights and interests fiercely. Cases that warrant punitive damages are often the most physically and emotionally taxing. If the insurance company fails to offer a reasonable settlement, we will take your case to trial and stop at nothing to get every dollar you deserve. We have helped hundreds of car accident victims secure compensation. Call us today or contact us online to set up your free evaluation. Once you become our client, you become our top priority.