If you were hurt in a car accident through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages include hospital bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other economic and non-economic damages stemming from the collision. Punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party and to deter similar transgressions in the future. While compensatory damages are awarded in any successful personal injury case, punitive damages are only available in cases that involve a defendant who acted with particularly egregious misconduct.
What Evidence Can My Attorney Use to Pursue Punitive Damages?
To recover an award of punitive damages, your attorney must prove how the defendant’s behavior constituted malice, oppression, or fraud. After a drunk driving accident, punitive damages might be recoverable since the decision to drive while intoxicated often constitutes malice.
There are two ways to prove malice:
- Demonstrate that the defendant acted with the intent to cause injury; or
- Demonstrate that the defendant acted with “despicable conduct,” meaning that the conduct was vile, base, or contemptible and done with a willful or conscious disregard of the safety and rights of others.
A defendant is considered to have acted with willful disregard if he or she was aware that his or her behavior had a high probability of causing injury yet still chose to engage in that behavior. Given the fact that the dangers of drunk driving are so well known—more than 1 in 4 traffic deaths involve an impaired motorist—it’s reasonable to assume that drunk drivers are aware of the dangers they pose to other people.
Proving that the defendant acted with malice may only require evidence that he or she was in fact intoxicated at the time of the crash, and perhaps evidence that he or she had prior DUI arrests. Specifically, your attorney may use the following evidence to pursue an award of punitive damages:
- The results of any blood or breath tests conducted at the scene or shortly after the crash;
- The official police report;
- Arrest records;
- Eyewitness testimony;
- Receipts and/or surveillance footage from nearby bars, restaurants, and/or liquor stores that supplied the driver with alcohol prior to the wreck; and
- Social media posts indicating the driver had been drinking prior to getting behind the wheel.
It’s important to note that if you’re entitled to punitive damages, the award will be reasonable and proportionate to the trauma you endured. Although California does not cap punitive damages like many other states, the courts will not award an exceedingly high figure that doesn’t correspond to the total value of the compensatory damages incurred.
Are There Other Car Accident Scenarios That Might Warrant Punitive Damages?
Most car accident claims do not warrant punitive damages because they do not involve malice, oppression, or fraud. Rather, the vast majority of collisions are caused by ordinary negligence, which is not enough to justify an award of punitive damages.
There are, however, egregious behaviors outside of drunk driving that may warrant punitive damages. For example, if a driver flees the scene of an accident or intentionally causes a crash, any victims may be able to collect punitive damages.
What Other Damages Might Be Recoverable After a Drunk Driving Accident?
Drunk driving accident victims have the right to pursue the same compensatory damages that all car accident victims can seek. In the state of California, such damages might include:
- Past and future medical bills;
- Lost income and benefits;
- Loss of future earning capacity;
- Home care;
- Property damage;
- Alternative transportation;
- Home and vehicle modifications necessary for accommodating any disabilities;
- Domestic help;
- Child care;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of enjoyment in life; and
- Emotional distress.
Additionally, your spouse or registered domestic partner may be able to recover compensation for loss of consortium. This refers to the loss of:
- Intimacy and/or the ability to have children;
- Moral support;
- Protection; and
What Evidence Will My Attorney Use to Prove Compensatory Damages?
You won’t be able to recover damages unless you can prove the kinds of damages incurred and their value. Below are a few examples of evidence your attorney might use to prove compensatory damages:
- Medical records;
- Pharmacy receipts;
- Hospital bills;
- Health insurance statements;
- Records, receipts, and invoices for reasonable home care, child care, and/or domestic help;
- Quotes for repairing or replacing any property damage;
- Income statements;
- Prior tax returns;
- Statistics regarding the average lifetime earnings of those in your industry with a similar career trajectory;
- Contractor quotes for making home modifications;
- Photographs of visible wounds;
- Journal entries detailing your recovery; and
- Statements from loved ones explaining how the injuries appear to be affecting your wellbeing.
Will My Case Go to Trial?
Most car accident claims are resolved out of court, but if you incurred significant damages or if you intend to pursue a punitive award, your case might be more likely to end up before a judge. As such, it’s important to enlist the help of a seasoned trial attorney if you were injured or lost a family member in a drunk driving accident.
Call (562) 206-1939 to Speak with a Car Accident Attorney in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you were seriously hurt in a drunk driving accident, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks. Attorney Michael Waks has more than 30 years of experience in legal practice, and he is well-versed in the case law and statutes pertaining to punitive damages awards. Call (562) 206-1939 or fill out our Contact Form to schedule a free case evaluation with a car accident lawyer in Long Beach.
Download Our Car Accident Emergency .PDF
Car accident scenes are inherently chaotic, and the shock and adrenaline you experience in the immediate aftermath can make it hard to think clearly. If you forget to take certain steps in the wake of the crash, it could jeopardize your chances of building a strong case. That’s why we created our Car Accident Emergency .PDF. This document will remind you to gather the most important information you’ll need to file an insurance claim. You can download it for free by clicking here. Don’t forget to store a copy in each vehicle’s glove compartment.
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