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Can you get punitive damages in a car accident case?

Car AccidentsNews   May 20, 2017

Ohio car accident victims generally know that they can file a lawsuit to recover for losses that result from their injuries. Some may have questions about the availability of punitive damages, especially when they feel the other driver was not just at fault but really behaved very badly.

Judges or juries may award punitive damages in some motor vehicle accident cases. However, a plaintiff may not ask for punitive damages until the judge or jury has already awarded compensatory damages. At that point, you may begin another stage of your case and present evidence that you should receive punitive damages.

Decision whether to award based on defendant’s conduct

Unlike the earlier stage of arguing for compensatory damages, this part of the case will focus on the driver’s behavior rather than your pain and suffering which resulted from it. The point of awarding punitive damages is to punish bad conduct and to deter it in the future. Thus, courts want to see evidence that the driver caused the accident not just by negligence but by purposeful or extremely outrageous behavior.

Conduct must be intentionally malicious or outrageous

Thus, behaving stupidly or carelessly will typically fail to reach the required threshold. On the other hand, driving while impaired by alcohol may qualify even if the defendant argues that he or she did not intend to cause a crash. Generally, the law considers the act of drinking enough to become intoxicated a voluntary act and may even impose criminal liability for it. The potential consequences of getting behind the wheel while drunk are obvious and well-known enough that courts do not need the driver to specifically intend to crash into other cars.

Limits on recovery amounts

Ohio law limits the amount a plaintiff can recover through punitive damages. Generally, this award may not amount to more than twice the awarded compensatory damages. It may also not exceed $350,000 or 10 percent of net worth for a small business or an individual, even if that would reduce the award to less than twice the compensatory damages award.

If you sustained a car accident in Ohio, speak with a qualified lawyer as soon as possible. You attorney can explore available remedies and work to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.