blog home Personal Injury Can I Recover Punitive Damages After a Car Accident?

By Renee Nordstrand on April 14, 2021

legal scales sitting in front of a window

After being injured by another driver, you may be angry at the person who hit you, frustrated with the insurance claims process, and concerned about your future. A single drunk driving accident could cost you thousands of dollars in medical bills, weeks to months in lost wages, and years of emotional trauma. Your best option may be to file a personal injury claim to recover compensation for your damages. In addition, in some cases, it may be possible for you to receive punitive damages in California.

What Damages Can I Recover in a Claim?

If you were injured by a negligent driver, you may be eligible to file a personal injury claim to pay for the costs of your injuries and other damages. The money you receive in a personal injury claim is called “compensatory damages” and is meant to cover the losses you have suffered due to someone else’s actions.

In California, these damages can include compensation for:

  • All medical expenses, including past and future treatments
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

The purpose of a civil claim is to give the accident victim the ability to pay for their losses and become whole again, since the accident wasn’t their fault. You can receive compensation by negotiating a settlement with an insurance company or, if that process fails, filing a lawsuit and taking the case to trial. Trials take much longer, but there is an added benefit for some victims: with jury trials, it is possible to receive both compensatory and, under certain circumstances, punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are punishments for wrongdoers. This type of punishment is levied by a civil court jury if a defendant in a personal injury trial broke his or her duty of care to the victim through an act of “oppression, fraud, or malice,” according to California Civil Code 3294. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant rather than compensate a plaintiff. Punitive damages must be requested by a plaintiff, but it is up to the jury to decide if these damages are warranted.

To receive punitive damages, a plaintiff’s attorney must prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant intended to harm the plaintiff (malice), disregarded the plaintiff’s rights and caused unjust hardship (oppression), or misrepresented facts to the plaintiff (fraud). In most cases, the attorney must show that the defendant acted recklessly or with complete disregard for the plaintiff’s safety.

A plaintiff in California is most likely to receive punitive damages after a drunk driving accident. The jury can easily conclude that the drunk driver acted with unforgivable recklessness when he chose to drink and drive that he should be punished with punitive damages.

While it is possible to receive punitive damages, collecting an award for punitive damages may be more complicated. Punitive damages are paid by the defendant directly and not his or her insurance company, which means you may be limited by the defendant’s assets.

Speak to a Lawyer Today

To receive the money you need to heal after being injured by a negligent driver, contact a Santa Barbara car accident lawyer at NordstrandBlack PC. We have more than 40 years of combined experience and have recovered millions of dollars for our clients in settlements and jury verdicts. We can sit down with you in a free consultation and talk about what happened to you and how the accident affected your life. Call us at (805) 962-2022 to schedule a consultation today.

Posted in: Personal Injury