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Can I make a claim for punitive damages?

If you are involved in a personal injury case, you are likely wondering if you can seek punitive damages. Under certain circumstances you may be able to ask for punitive damages if you take your case to trial, but the jury will make that decision. Learning as much as possible about punitive damages and how they work lets you choose your path with confidence and peace of mind.

Punitive Damages Versus Compensation

Before you can seek punitive damages, invest some time in learning the difference between punitive damages and compensation. In a personal injury case, compensation is what is given to the victim to make up for the medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses related to the incident.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, aim to punish the person who caused the injury. If you would like to get punitive damages, you must prove that the other person had malicious intentions or acted with such a high degree of negligence that their actions demonstrated a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. Not only do punitive damages punish people who disregard the safety of others, but they also discourage other people from engaging in similar behavior. In the majority of accident cases, the person who caused the accident made a mistake and did not intend to cause the injuries. However, there are several notable exceptions which may include drunk driving, texting while driving, employer misconduct, product manufacturer misconduct, and injuries caused by intentional criminal actions.

Drunk Driving

If you were in an accident and the other driver was drunk, you could have a case for punitive damages. Most people understand the risks that are involved with drunk driving so it can be argued that the drunk understood that they could cause an accident and hurt someone, but they chose to drive drunk anyway. The jury will look at the evidence and decide if the drunk driver should face additional punishment for causing your injuries. If the driver has a history of drunk driving and getting in trouble with the police, the jury is much more likely to award punitive damages. The amount awarded depends on how strong of a message the jury wants to send the defendant, but you can never count on getting punitive damages.

Texting While Driving

If you were in an accident and the other driver was texting, you could also have a case for punitive damages. As technology has evolved people are exposed to more distractions and unfortunately some have allowed these distractions while they are driving. Texas recently passed a law that forbids drivers from texting and driving, but unfortunately many drivers choose to continue to text and drive. This demonstrates that they are more concerned with texting their friends than they are for the safety of other drivers on the road.The jury will look at the evidence and decide if the texting driver should face additional punishment for causing your injuries.

Employer Misconduct

Employer misconduct is another example of a case that may result in punitive damages. An employer knows about a safety issue in the workplace but refuses to fix it to save money. An employee later gets hurt on the job and goes to the hospital. Employers who do not have worker’s compensation are called “non-subscribers” and can be held accountable for these actions in court. Texas is the only state that allows employers to opt out of carrying worker’s compensation. Employers who have worker’s compersation insurance can only be sued in court for this type of action if their neglect rises to the level of gross negligence and the injury causing event leads to the wrongful death of one of their workers.

If the employee can prove management knew about the problem and did not fix it because they wanted to save money, the employee has grounds to seek punitive damages in addition to workers’ compensation. This is just one example, and laws related to workplace injuries are complex and change often. Speaking with a personal injury lawyer is the best way to move forward and get advice tailored to your exact needs.

Product Manufacturer Misconduct

Product manufacturer misconduct is another example of a case that may result in punitive damages. This type of case is often pursued when a dangerous product causes harm to a person. If a manufacturer knows that its product is unsafe, or the manufacturer cuts corners on safety features in order to save more money or generate more profits, then a personal injury attorney filing a product liability claim may seek punitive damages on your behalf to punish the manufacturer. This is done so that the manufacturer has the incentive to fix future products to make them safe for the public.

Injuries Caused by Intentional Criminal Actions

The final major category of punitive damages in personal injury cases deals with intentional criminal actions by the person who hurt you. This type of case usually involves a type of physical or sexual assault upon you or your loved one. After determining how you should be compensated, the jury is often given the opportunity to award punitive damages to punish the criminal for the purposes of deterring others from committing future crimes. Civil actions taken against criminals are filed by the victims against the criminal in civil court and are separate from criminal cases filed by the State against the criminal. Any amount awarded to the victim is separate and in addition to any fine or punishment given to the criminal in the criminal proceeding.

Limits on Punitive Damages

Another fact you must consider is that the law limits the amount you can seek for punitive damages. This limit depends on the state whose laws govern the case, and most states apply some type of limit on the amount that a jury could award in punitive damages.

Another consideration to keep in mind is that most insurance policies do not cover punitive damages. Unfortunately this may lead to problems collecting these types of damages. A personal injury attorney will be able to fully advise you of your legal options.

Final Thoughts

Since punitive damages punish rather than provide compensation, you must prove the other party acted with malice or with such a high level of negligence that it demonstrated disregard for the safety of others. If you want to discover your odds of getting punitive damages, speak with a personal injury lawyer the first chance you get.

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