Can You Seek Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Punitive Damages in Car Accident LawsuitsAfter being involved in a severe car accident in Tulsa, you may have life-threatening injuries and other traumatic losses. If so, you can file a car accident lawsuit against the negligent party and demand compensation for your losses.

One of the terms you might hear when speaking with your Tulsa car accident attorney about your case is punitive damages. Punitive damages are not automatically included in every case. Instead, additional evidence of “special” acts and omissions must be provided for punitive damages to ever be considered.

What are punitive damages?

There are two different types of damages in a personal injury case –  compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are compensation awarded for injuries, harm, or losses that an individual suffers, while punitive damages are awarded separately and “only when it is determined that the defendant has acted in a particularly harmful way.” Punitive damages are considered to be a form of punishment for the negligent defendant, but there must be “serious misconduct” for punitive damages to be awarded. In addition to serving as a means of punishment for the offending party, punitive damages also serve as a deterrent or warning for other similarly situated actors to refrain from similar conduct in the future.

You may not be eligible for punitive damages in something like a minor fender-bender, but you may be eligible for punitive damages in incidents, for example, when someone gets behind the wheel after drinking too much. In cases like these, the defendant made a choice when deciding to drive, even though everyone knows that drinking and driving is against the law. In Oklahoma, mere negligence is insufficient to trigger punitive damages; instead, an injured party must prove there was aggravated liability such as gross negligence, reckless disregard and/or intentional conduct.

What is the maximum punitive damages I can receive for a car crash?

Oklahoma law has three different sets of parameters for punitive damages. How much you are awarded will depend on the exact circumstances of the case, and what a jury believes about the intentions of a defendant.

In cases where the defendant is found “guilty of reckless disregard for the rights of others,” a jury may award up to:

  • “One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00), or
  • The amount of the actual [compensatory] damages awarded.”

Generally speaking, it is this first category that applies in car accidents. Drunk or distracted drivers typically don’t intend to harm anyone else, but their conduct exceeds “regular” negligence.

It’s different if a driver intentionally harms you, however. Picture a driver in the throes of road rage – one who pulls out a bat at a red light and starts swinging it at your window. In cases where the defendant “has acted intentionally and with malice towards others,” a jury may award up to:

  • “Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00), or
  • Twice the amount of actual [compensatory] damages awarded.”

What if that aggressive driver pulls a gun? In cases where the defendant “has acted intentionally and with malice towards others… and engaged in conduct life-threatening to humans,” then a jury “may award punitive damages in any amount the jury deems appropriate, without regard to the limitations set forth.” In other words, a defendant who engages in intentional and malicious behavior designed to potentially kill another person or people, even if he or she fails to actually kill anyone, may be ordered to pay any amount of punitive damages that a jury (or judge) awards.

How do I ask for punitive damages?

We will seek punitive damages if we believe that you are eligible for them. We will gather the appropriate evidence and submit it to the court, showing that the defendant’s behavior was so severe that it surpassed negligence and qualifies as reckless, wanton disregard, or malicious, intentional behavior.

The key factors used to determine awards for punitive damages

There are different factors taken into consideration when determining awards for punitive damages in Oklahoma, such as:

  • How dangerous the defendant’s behavior was to the community and those around
  • Whether there was any profit obtained by the defendant for their actions
  • How long the misconduct occurred
  • Whether the defendant tried to cover it up
  • Whether or not the defendant realized how dangerous their behavior was
  • How the defendant reacted after realizing how severe and harmful their actions were
  • How many people took part in carrying out the harmful and dangerous behavior, or its cover up

Are punitive damages hard to prove?

Punitive damages are rarely obvious when an incident initially unfolds; if they arise it is usually a result of significant investigation and inquiry by a victim’s lawyers. An article published by Forbes points out the fact that punitive damages are rarely pursued, and when they are, only about 30 percent of plaintiffs are awarded for these types of damages. If you want to increase your chances of receiving punitive damages, you will need an experienced and skilled lawyer by your side.

Will my punitive damage award be taxed?

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), any punitive damages that you receive are taxable. This means that you will need to claim these damages as “Other Income” on your tax return even if you received them as part of your personal injury claim.

If you or a loved one was recently involved in a car accident, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a Tulsa car accident lawyer from Biby Law Firm. Our team has the knowledge and resources to help you obtain the maximum compensation possible, including punitive damages. Call our office or fill out our contact form to schedule a no-cost case review today.