If you are ever caught in a car accident, there are a few things you must do right away. First, you should make sure your health is not in immediate danger. Next, you can start to gather evidence and information at the scene. Once those two tasks are complete, you will find a car accident lawyer to assist you with your legal case. One thing that you will do with your attorney decides what damages you want to seek from the other parties involved in your crash. Under certain circumstances, that might include punitive damages.
Types of Damages
The vast majority of car accident claims fall under the category of personal injury law. Inside personal injuries, there are two types of damages: Compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are what most automobile accident lawyers target in these types of lawsuits. They cover things like medical bills, lost wages, and emotional suffering. Though these are the typical damages people pursue, you may have reason to try and obtain punitive damages as well.
While compensatory damages are meant to compensate the victim, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defending party. As you might imagine, this type of compensation is not common. If your crash is a legitimate accident or a case of ordinary negligence on the part of the other driver, you will likely have no shot at punitive damages. Instead, they are reserved for only the most extreme cases.
Reasons to Pursue
Though these damages are not common, there are certain cases where you may want to pursue them. The primary reason why is to increase your compensation package. While the potential for compensatory damages is quite high, it is even higher for punitive damages. Auto accident lawyers in Houston often report that in these types of cases, punitive compensation is three to five times larger than compensatory. For this reason, it is worth looking into.
Why You Might Win
Generally, a case of ordinary negligence will not let you collect punitive damages. That means that even if somebody is doing something very careless, such as texting and driving, this will likely not be enough. That being said, if that negligence goes a step further, you might. In California, you must prove one of three things to obtain punitive damages: Oppression, fraud, or malice. In car accident cases, the one you will choose is almost always malice, which is defined as having a willful disregard for someone else’s safety. The following are two situations where malice is present.
Example #1: A driver goes out to the bars knowing that they will drink heavily and drive home. Because they are planning to drive later, they are disregarding the safety of others on the road. When they crash into you and are later revealed to have an excessive blood alcohol content, a jury may decide that they deserve extra punishment.
Example #2: You are out on the road and, for whatever reason, another driver becomes very angry with you. You try to diffuse the situation, but they will not let you. In their state of rage, they purposely ram you off the road, causing an injury. In this case, the driver caused you pain and suffering on purpose and may be subject to punishment.
How to Calculate
The jury will calculate the sum of your punitive damages. Two primary guidelines govern that decision. First, you must also seek compensatory damages in the same case. Second, your punitive damages cannot exceed nine times the total of your compensatory compensation. Two of the critical factors in choosing the exact number are how heinous the actions of the wrongdoer were\ and their financial situation.
Though punitive damages are a possibility, the vast majority of car accident cases do not include them. That is because they do not include malice or other forms of extreme negligence. Still, your situation might be one of the few exceptions. The best way to find out is by talking to a car accident lawyer.