Within recent years, the term “punitive damages” has been thrown around, sometimes by those who do not fully understand or appreciate the term. What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are awarded by the jury (or a judge in a bench trial) to compensate an injured party for losses he or she suffered due to the harm caused by the defendant (wrongdoer). Punitive damages would be awarded in addition to actual damages. However, punitive damages are rare.
Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant in a civil lawsuit (such as a personal injury case) for outrageous misconduct by the defendant. Such damages are to deter the defendant and others from similar misbehavior in the future.
The terms used to characterize outrageous misconduct, thus justifying such damages, generally include bad faith, fraud, malice, oppression, outrageous, violent, wanton, wicked, reckless, and utter disregard for the rights and interests of others, including the plaintiff.
That being said, are punitive damages recoverable in accidents (i.e. car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, etc.)? Generally “no” because accidents usually happen because the defendant is negligent, i.e. careless. However, there is an exception to this rule.
Since punitive damages are designed to punish wrongdoers, and those who act recklessly and with utter disregard for the rights and interests of others, victims of drunk drivers are allowed to seek punitive damages. In order to seek such damages, one needs to allege that the defendant (i.e. drunk driver) knew he/she was intoxicated and knew that serious injury would probably result to others by getting behind the wheel.
Court have made this exception to deter drunk driving. However, certain facts must be established before an accident victim is allowed to seek and recover punitive damages. This is why it is important to consult with and use an experienced attorney if you have been injured by a drunk driver.
This article is brought to you by Attorney Mason Rashtian of The Mason Law Firm. If you have been injured in an accident, a slip and fall or were attacked by a dog, and wish to speak with someone about your rights, please give us a call. We will provide you with an honest and complete assessment and educate you as to your options.
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