Let’s say a rich guy, driving a brand new BMW, gets mad at you for waiting too long at a stop light, and slams his car into yours intentionally, on purpose, from the rear, at the next stop light. You are hurt.
In a car accident lawsuit, the rich guy will have to pay you your medical bills, your lost wages, and something for your pain and suffering . The medical bills, the lost wages, and the pain and suffering are called compensatory damages – they compensate you for what you’ve lost.
In this example, though, the rich guy acted intentionally – he drove into you on purpose, and wanted to hurt you. Because he acted intentionally, your lawyer can ask the jury to also award you punitive damages (also called exemplary damages) in addition to the lost wages, the pain and suffering, and the medical bills.
The law allows you to recover punitive damages because it wants to send a message. The message is “if you hurt someone intentionally you will have to pay a lot of money.”
And punitive damages are not restricted to lawsuits where the person causing damage acted intentionally. A jury can also award them when it finds that the defendant committed fraud, or acted with “malice.”
What is malice? Ohio courts tell juries that malice is “a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of another person that has a great probability of causing substantial harm.” This is often easier to prove than intentional conduct.
The great thing about punitive damages is that, if you can get them, they are awarded in addition to any compensatory damages you can prove for pain and suffering, lost wages, or medical bills. They are also awarded only after the jury has determined that the person who caused your injuries acted intentionally, or with malice or fraud.
So a jury will only award punitive damages against someone it has found responsible for doing something bad intentionally, or who was – in a word – extremely careless. Juries don’t like people who do bad things intentionally, and they are more likely to award a lot of money against someone they don’t like.
If you recover punitive damages, you can also ask for attorney fees.
Whether to ask for punitive damages is a decision you should make with your lawyer. Few lawsuits – and very few auto accidents – qualify for punitive damages.
You probably cannot get punitive damages if the person who caused the accident made a simple, ordinary mistake, and was not overly careless. And the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ohio Legislature have restricted their availability in the last 10 years or so. And like anything else, if they are clearly not appropriate, you will lose credibility.
But if you ask for them, and the other side thinks you can prove them, you will get a lot of attention.
I have been a lawyer over 30 years. I have brought suit for punitive damages, and achieved good recoveries for the people I represent. If you think you might have a lawsuit that deserves punitve damages, speak with an experienced Cincinnati Injury Lawyer – call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775 in Cincinnati.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed.