In our last couple of posts, we have been speaking about the topic of punitive damages in car accident cases. As we’ve pointed out, punitive damages are limited to cases where malice, fraud or oppression can be proven by clear and convincing evidence, a high standard which prevents many plaintiffs from obtaining such damages.
Punitive damages can potentially be awarded in car accident claims, depending on the circumstances, and this will typically be where the driver is proven to have been acting either intentionally to hurt the plaintiff or out of reckless disregard for the plaintiff’s safety. The decision whether to award punitive damages, and to what extent, is determined by the jury, so it is important for a plaintiff to work with an experienced attorney who understands how to highlight aspects of the case to form a basis for such an award.
One example of what we’re talking about would be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In such cases, proving that a defendant acted with reckless disregard to the safety of other motorists, including the plaintiff, can be very doable when the circumstances of the case are right. Another possible scenario where punitive damages could be awarded is when the at-fault driver flees the scene of the accident. Under the right circumstances, juries are likely to consider such behavior “despicable” enough to justify punitive damages. Aggressive driving may be another situation where a jury might recognize a plaintiff’s right to punitive damages.
Even when a jury awards punitive damages to a plaintiff in a car accident case, there are some circumstances where a judge can overturn such an award. Knowing one’s options when this happens is important, and working with experienced legal counsel ensures one will have proper guidance and advocacy.
Source: California Civil Code, Section 3294-3296