In the average car accident claim, compensation is awarded to the injured party to make up for the expenses incurred through hospital stays, doctor visits, lost wages, and emotional distress, all in an attempt to make up for the harm done. In some personal injury cases, however, additional damages are included, intended to punish the negligent driver rather than compensate the victim. These are known as punitive damages.
Punitive damages, because they are not meant to recompense the injured victim of the car accident, are not possible for every car accident case, but are typically reserved for particularly heinous instances of driver negligence. If awarded, however, punitive damages can triple the amount of financial compensation or even more.
Punitive damages are governed by California Civil Code section 3294(a), and stipulates that such damages are only in play in cases where the defendant exhibited not only the negligence common in car accident claims, but further exercised “oppression, fraud, or malice” against the victim.
The standard for awarding punitive damages is also higher than the average civil case and more akin to a criminal proceeding. The former only requires a standard of proof such that the defendant likely practiced some form of negligence. There must be “clear and convincing evidence” of deliberate malfeasance, on the other hand, for punitive damages to be awarded.
Further, punitive damages are not awarded in injury cases where there are no actual damages. That is to say, even if one party acts with malicious intent in causing a car accident, if the victim ended up only sustaining minor damage to their vehicle rather than bodily harm, punitive damages will not be available.
Punitive damages as it relates to car accident claims are more common in cases where the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While the defendant doesn’t need to have intended to harm others, because the intoxication itself was voluntary, as was the decision to operate a motor vehicle, this in itself constitutes sufficient malice to warrant punitive damages.
In such a scenario, the defendant will likely have to deal with a criminal DUI case on top of a personal injury claim.
Exactly how the punitive damages are calculated is a subjective matter for the jury to decide. However, by law, the amount cannot exceed nine times the amount of actual damages awarded. Because punitive damages are meant as punishment to discourage such malevolent behavior and have less to do with the actual car accident, defendants who are wealthier can see their punitive damages based on their affluence.
Whether your car accident was the result of some form of malice or not, in the immediate aftermath, you need to speak with a Los Angeles car accident lawyer who can advise you as to what you should do next and how you can protect your right to pursue compensation.
The Law Offices of Jacob Emrani has successfully handled countless car accident claims and has recovered millions of dollars for injured clients in the process. Do not wait to call our firm and discuss your case with us—give us a call at (888) 952-2952 or reach out to us online!