At the end of a trial, a jury may sometimes decide to award a plaintiff “punitive damages.” An award of punitive damages can often be higher than what are referred to as compensatory damages, which are geared at compensating someone for the actual loss suffered. However, punitive damages are not awarded in every case, and a person who gets injured in a car accident may not necessarily receive this extra compensation.
Punitive damages refer to monetary awards that a defendant in a lawsuit is ordered to pay as a punishment for certain behavior that caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Punitive damages are also awarded to discourage bad behavior by others in the community. While punitive damages are rarely awarded in most car accident cases, it is possible for a person injured in a car accident caused by the negligent acts of another driver to receive punitive damages.
Because punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant for some behavior, punitive damages in a car accident can only be awarded if the plaintiff can prove that the driver did something that was grossly negligent or intentionally engaged in misconduct. If a driver who is sued for causing an accident was driving while voluntarily intoxicated, the jury may find this behavior as being enough to award punitive damages.
Punitive damages can also be awarded in a case where the defendant is an employer being sued for being responsible for the actions of an employee. For example, an employer employs several truck drivers for long haul deliveries and encourages those employees to work around the clock to make sure deliveries are made. Because one of the drivers is exhausted and unable to stay awake, he causes a serious car accident in which several other people are seriously injured. If the injured people file a lawsuit against the employee and the employer seeking compensation for their injuries, a jury may seek to punish the employer by awarding punitive damages.
There are limitations on the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages. At the basic level, punitive damages cannot exceed three times what is awarded in compensatory damages, or alternatively, cannot exceed $500,000. These caps can be raised if there is a specific finding that the behavior of the defendant being ordered to pay the damages was motivated by greed and disregarded a known risk to the injury of others. If there is a finding that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff in a case, and succeeded in causing the plaintiff harm, there is no limit on punitive damages.
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While it may be difficult for an injured plaintiff to receive punitive damages after a car accident, it is not impossible. Because the plaintiff is required to prove certain legal issues in order to be able to seek punitive damages, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced car accident lawyer before filing a lawsuit. To learn more about how you can seek compensation for serious injuries sustained in a car accident, contact an experienced car accident injury lawyer at Vocelle & Berg, LLP, in Vero Beach, Florida.