If you are pursuing an auto accident case, you may wonder whether to include punitive damages in your demand. Punitive damages do not compensate you for anything. Rather, the damages punish the defendant for their actions. Below are some of the factors that determine whether the defendant should pay punitive damages and how much the damages can be.
Degree of Harm
Serious harm is more likely to attract punitive damages than minimal harm. Consider two DUI (driving under the influence) accidents where one leads to a paralyzed victim, and the other leads to skin bruises. The person responsible for the paralysis is more likely to pay punitive damages than the person responsible for the bruises is.
Intentional acts also tend to attract punitive damages. This is even more so if the defendant not only intended the dangerous act but also intended to cause the eventual harm. A road rage accident is a classic example of an intentional act that can attract punitive damages. An angry driver who runs you off the road is more likely to pay punitive damages than a driver who runs you off the road after losing control of their car.
Degree of Offensiveness
The degree of offensiveness also matters. Since offensiveness is a subjective matter, the court will weigh the offensiveness of the defendant's actions against the hypothetical reaction of an average person. For example, an average person would be more offended by a drunk driver with a child passenger than a drunk driver without a passenger would. Thus, the drunk driver with a child passenger is almost certain to pay punitive damages.
The court will also consider what the defendant did after the accident. The best defendant (in the eyes of the government) is one who mitigates the effects of their actions after an accident. For example, a good driver should stay at the scene of an accident until the police arrive and call for emergency services. The worst drivers try to hide their actions after an accident — such drivers even flee accident scenes. Hiding or lying about the accident can easily attract punitive damages.
Other Civil and Criminal Actions
Those who cause auto accidents are usually subject to other civil and criminal actions other than the claims the victims might pursue. For example, a criminal court might order a DUI convict to pay restitution to the victims of their accident. Such criminal or civil actions might reduce the punitive damages the court may require from the DUI convict.
For more information, contact an auto accident lawyer.