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What Are Punitive Damages in Car Accidents?

Fiol Law Group|Posted in Car Accidents on January 17, 2020

A punitive damage award is something you could receive in addition to compensatory damages for your personal injuries or a loved one’s death after a vehicle accident. Punitive damages are a type of compensation you may win during an accident claim if your case goes to court. A judge or jury will look at the defendant’s behavior and the extent of your losses to determine whether punitive damages are appropriate. If so, you may receive an additional monetary award.

Understanding Punitive Damages

Punitive damages mainly serve the purpose of punishing the defendant, rather than compensating the victim. As a crash victim, you may have already received a fair award to cover your medical costs, property damage repairs, lost wages, legal expenses and other losses before receiving a punitive damage award. Punitive damages can maximize compensation for the victim while penalizing the defendant for particularly heinous or egregious acts of wrongdoing.

A judge’s reasons for awarding punitive damages in a car accident claim are usually threefold: to punish the defendant, establish precedent and further compensate the victim. A court may award punitive damages to make a defendant pay for the gross negligence or egregious misconduct that led to a serious accident. A judge may also use it to set an example for others in the community: the courts will not tolerate that kind of behavior. Finally, a judge may award punitive damages if he or she believes the compensatory award was inadequate for the victim’s particularly catastrophic or life-changing injuries.

Types of Accidents That Qualify

Punitive damages are rare in Tampa auto accident cases and personal injury lawsuits in general. Estimates place the percentage of cases that receive punitive awards between three and five. However, you could receive a punitive award as a crash survivor if your case involves certain elements. A personal injury lawyer could help you prove that gross negligence or intentional misconduct occurred and that you are therefore eligible for punitive damages, depending on the situation.

  • Drunk or reckless driving accidents. Car accidents involving broken laws, such as Florida’s ban on drunk driving, may receive punitive damages to penalize the defendant for breaking the law. Excessive speeding, street racing, drugged driving, red-light running, and other reckless driving behaviors could also lead to punitive damages.
  • Accidents involving gross negligence. Gross negligence can refer to any action or behavior that constitutes a reckless disregard for the consequences to another party, such as driving distracted, texting and driving, or road-rage driving. Gross negligence is the wanton indifference to the safety, rights or lives of others.
  • Intent to harm using a vehicle as a weapon. Intent to cause the victim harm from behind the wheel of a vehicle, such as in a vehicular manslaughter case, could be grounds for a judge to award punitive damages. Intentional means the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act and the probability of injury or damages to the victim.

Florida’s law on punitive damages (Florida Statute 768.72) only permits this type of monetary award if the claimant can reasonably establish through evidence that a basis for the recovery of such damages exists. Permitted grounds for punitive damages in Florida are the defendant’s intentional misconduct or gross negligence. You or your lawyer can assert a claim for punitive damages if you believe the circumstances of the car accident justify doing so.

How to Improve Your Odds of Receiving Punitive Damages

If you were recently involved in a serious car accident you believe the defendant caused through an act of intentional wrongdoing or gross negligence, contact an attorney to assist you with your claim. An attorney will know precisely how to argue for maximum compensation for your damages – including asserting a claim to punitive damages, if appropriate. A Tampa injury lawyer can help you understand punitive damages in Florida and your odds of obtaining them during a civil lawsuit.