Will Your Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyers Fight for Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are quite a bit different from economic and non-economic damages on a fundamental level. Economic and non-economic damages are “compensatory,” which means they are meant to cover the losses suffered by the plaintiff due to the negligent or wrongful misconduct of the defendant. By contrast, punitive damages are meant as a modifier to the compensatory damages amount, to discourage the defendant (and others who are similarly situated) from engaging in similar misconduct.
Confused? Here’s an example:
Suppose that you are injured in a car accident by a defendant-driver who was going through a fit of “road rage.” Your damages total $100,000. Simply put, the defendant was angered that you did not let them merge into your lane, and as such, they rammed the back of your car, causing you to crash and sustain significant injuries as a result. Under such circumstances, the court might find that the defendant’s conduct was sufficiently willful and malicious to justify an award of punitive damages.
Another example is if a driver who is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causes an accident, their conduct may be regarded as malicious thereby resulting in punitive damages.
The court may exercise their discretion in awarding punitive damages (though they may not award more than seven times the compensatory damages amount). The jury might say that the circumstances are such that a punitive award equivalent to three times the compensatory damages should be imposed. This would give a total of $400,000 in recovery ($100,000 compensatory damages and $300,000 punitive damages).
By creating such an enormous recovery, the court further punishes the “road rage” or drunk driver for their misconduct, and discourages other potential road-ragers from acting in a similar manner and putting others at risk.
It’s worth noting that courts do not often award punitive damages, as the recovery allows plaintiffs to secure a monetary award that is in excess of their actual losses. To secure a punitive damages recovery, you must persuasively argue that the defendant engaged in willful and malicious conduct — even then, however, the court may exercise its discretion in choosing to award punitive damages.
Don’t assume you know how much your case is worth. Contact a Los Angeles car accident lawyer at our firm today! Free consultations.