Recovering Punitive Damages When You Are the Victim of a Car Accident
There are a few different types of damages that you can recover when you are the victim of a car accident. The most basic type is called “compensatory damages.” If you are awarded compensatory damages, then you will simply receive the amount of money necessary to make you whole from the accident. The size of the award will be determined by the damage to your property and the cost of your medical bills. But in some extreme situations, courts award damages beyond what is necessary to make you whole from the accident. These damages are called “punitive damages”.
When can you recover punitive damages when you are the victim of a car accident?
First of all, what are punitive damages? Punitive damages comprise compensation that a wrongdoer can be required to pay to a victim as a form of deterrence to prevent others from acting recklessly in the future. In addition to deterring future conduct, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for his outrageous misconduct. You probably will not be able to recover punitive damages simply on the basis of the defendant’s negligence. There will have to be some sort of circumstances that makes the conduct of the defendant so deplorable that the court decides that it is necessary to inflict financial punishment on the wrongdoer. Typically, the conduct of the defendant will be described using terms such as fraud, malice, oppression, outrageous, violent, wanton, wicked, bad faith, or reckless. It is up to either the judge or the jury to determine whether the conduct of the wrongdoer rises to a level that punitive damages are appropriate. Some situations where this could occur are if the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or if the defendant purposely crashed into your car.
What are the special rules in Florida regarding punitive damages?
The Florida legislature has placed some limits on the amount of money you can receive if the court decides to award you punitive damages. The general rule is that if the circumstances are appropriate, the maximum punitive damage award you can receive is either $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages that you receive, whichever is greater. However, there are some circumstances that can increase the award you can receive to $2,000,000 or four times the amount of compensatory damages that you receive, whichever is great. The increased award is available when the wrongful conduct by the defendant was motivated by unreasonable financial gain and the conduct was unreasonably dangerous. In the most extreme situations, Florida law allows for no cap on punitive damages. For there to be no cap, the defendant must have had the specific intent to harm the plaintiff. In a car accident situation, this means that the defendant must have caused the crash on purpose.
If you have been the victim of a traffic accident and you would like to try to receive compensation for your injuries, contact the experienced Florida personal injury attorneys at the Clearwater based Mike Walker Law at 727-797-2020.