What are Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Case?

By  //  August 19, 2021

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Car accidents are a very common occurrence across the country. In most cases, the accident is followed by an insurance settlement or a court case in which the plaintiff sues the defendant for damages. These damages can relate to medical care, the cost to repair or replace the vehicle, or other similar monetary losses.

However, in some cases, there may because to seek punitive damages. Although this situation is rare, there are still some instances where seeking punitive damages is a good course of action. Keep reading to learn more about punitive damages related to a car accident case. 

What Are Punitive Damages? 

When a court of law awards money from a defendant to a plaintiff as a punishment, they are known as punitive damages. In order to determine the amount of punitive damages, there are several factors considered to arrive at a suitable amount. These factors can include the following. 

  • Defendant’s personal wealth and assets
  • The defendant’s actions
  • The damage was done as a result of the defendant’s actions
  • The amount of harm and stress incurred on the plaintiff in the case

In the case of a car accident, punitive damages are not a common occurrence. However, some states may allow for it depending on the individual situation.

Some instances where punitive damages are awarded involving a car accident can include an intention to harm or reckless driving behaviors. There can be other situations considered determined by the court, which is called gross negligence. 

What Constitutes Negligent Behavior

When it comes to negligence eligible for punitive damages, it can vary from state to state. As mentioned previously, some states won’t allow the plaintiff to collect punitive damages no matter what the situation. 

A court might award the plaintiff punitive damages if there is a drunk driving accident with injuries or willfully participating in dangerous activities with vehicles for sport or fun.

In some cases, there might be a case for punitive damages if the car driver knew the vehicle wasn’t roadworthy or unsafe. The process of proving that the driver was guilty of negligence vs. gross negligence is contingent on a few factors.

In order to gain an award for punitive damages, there needs to be overwhelming evidence that speaks to the level of negligence by the driver in a given situation, which is one of the hardest types of negligence to prove in court. Remember that simple carelessness and recklessness are two different things. 

Calculating Punitive Damages

When the court is deciding on an amount for punitive damages, they use multiple facts related to the case to arrive at a figure. Some things they take into consideration can include the following. 

  • Accident details
  • Level of negligence
  • Injuries and disability 
  • Defendant’s character 

It’s also important to remember that some states have a threshold on the amount of punitive damages awarded to victims. For example, Texas only allows up to $200,000 — $750,000 depending on the damages and circumstances. 

Compensatory Damages Vs. Punitive Damages

It’s important to know and understand that compensatory damages are different from punitive damages. While compensatory damages provide financial recourse for medical bills, property damages, and loss of income, or other factors related to a case, punitive damages are solely awarded as a punishment. 

In most cases, the court is only willing to offer the plaintiff compensatory damages to provide them with the financial support to cover all their legal, medical damages, and living expenses depending on the level of injury and facts surrounding the case. 

In contrast, punitive damages are hard to collect because the facts supporting the defendant’s gross negligence need to be solid for the court to consider the prospect. Some supporting evidence is necessary that provides they acted in a manner that was a blatant disregard for the passenger or accident victim in the car crash. 

For example, if the defendant were driving and knew they had terrible or non-existent brakes and caused a crash due to the lack of braking on the car, then the defendant would need to prove that they knew the vehicle wasn’t roadworthy.

Some evidence might be documentation that the vehicle was in unfit condition or testimony from a mechanic or salesperson who witnessed the car before the crash. There would also need to be evidence and documentation after the crash to support the claim. 

Collecting Punitive Damages

The first step in collecting punitive damages is finding and hiring an attorney with vast experience in these cases. They can analyze all the facts in the case and let you gain some insight into your chances of collecting compensatory damages and potentially punitive damages. 

They will also know what type of evidence to collect from various sources that can help prove there was gross negligence involved in the accident.

This process takes time and patience and can be painstakingly tedious in some instances. The best way to get good results and have a chance to prove there was gross negligence involved in the case possibly is to choose an attorney who has won several of these cases and knows which points to highlight and prove in a court of law. 

Most attorneys today allow the potential client to have a consultation either in person or on the phone. They may feel that you have a case and agree to take it with some conditions. Many personal injury attorneys chose to take a case on contingency, or they may request a retainer fee for their services. 

Always know which options you have in and are and only seek out the best matches for your particular case. Work with the attorney that you feel best knows how to win the case and provides you with the most comprehensive feedback and planned course of action for your situation. 

Working With an Attorney 

The first course of action is to work with an attorney you feel comfortable with and give them all the evidence and information you can to have the best outcome for the case.

Victims living in Eugene, Oregon, will want to find a car accident attorney in Eugene who has a reputation for getting results and helping victims collect the compensation they need to pay for their expenses and, in some cases, collect punitive damages. 

When choosing the right attorney, take some time to read online reviews and read more about their past cases and see what their current success rate says to their experience and potential. Remember that every attorney is different, and it might take several tries to find one who has the availability and the means and insight to collect punitive damages in complex cases. 

To find out if the attorney has the experience, search for locals attorneys with high award instances and reach out to them to schedule a consultation. In most instances, they can tell you your odds of collecting compensatory and punitive damages for the case in question.

Most victims prefer to get a few different opinions to get a clear picture of their chances and help them make an informed decision that works best in their situation. Reach out to them today to get started on the process and get the ideal award for your accident claim and get started on the process.