If you've been hurt in an automobile accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the person who caused it. If you win your lawsuit, you'll be awarded damages. This is usually compensation for injuries to pay for medical expenses, loss of pay due to not being able to work and pain and suffering. Punitive damages further punish the person who was found at fault because of excessive care to obey the rules of the road.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are payments for:

  • Past and future economic losses, including medical expenses and loss of wages
  • General damages, such as pain, suffering, and mental anguish

While the jury usually decides the amount of damages to award, some states have laws that restrict the amount of money they can award to the person bringing the lawsuit to court.

Comparative Fault

If you are in a state which has adopted some form of comparative fault or negligence, the judge or jury will determine your recovery and your percentage of fault. Under the rule of comparative negligence, your recovery of damages will be reduced, but not necessarily eliminated, by your contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence means that your carelessness helped to cause the accident and your injuries. Assuming that the judge or jury finds that the other driver was negligent and that his negligence, at least in part, caused your injuries, then your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of your fault.

Punitive or Exemplary Damages

In addition to basic awards to compensate you for your actual injury or expenses, you may also be awarded punitive or exemplary damages. These are designed to further punish the defendant for their lack of care or deter them from doing the same thing again. Conduct that goes beyond basic negligence could be considered grounds for this type of award. This conduct could be malicious, vindictive, willful, wanton or reckless.

Some of the factors that give courts cause to award punitive damages in automobile accidents:

  • Driver incompetence
  • Excessive speed
  • Violation of safety or traffic laws
  • Intoxication
  • Knowledge that the vehicle's poor condition could cause an accident

Anyone named in the suit, not just the driver who caused the immediate accident, can be made to pay damage awards as well. These include vehicle manufacturers, government agencies, utility companies and others.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • From the facts of my case, do I qualify to receive punitive or exemplary damages?
  • If the other driver and I were both at fault, how will the recovery of damages be determined? Can I still get an award of damages?

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