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Shelly Leeke Law Firm, LLC

Not Every Accident Warrants Punitive Damages

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I had a client ask me earlier in the week if he was entitled to punitive damages for his auto accident case. The client was involved in a rear end collision that knocked his vehicle off of the road and in to a ditch. He suffered a fairly serious injury, and his settlement was substantial.

However, not all accidents that cause injuries will provide for punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded as a punishment or "shame on you" to defendant's whose negligence in causing an accident has risen to a higher level that the ordinary negligence or mistake that causes an accident. Their purpose is to deter the public from engaging in the particular negligence that caused the accident. For example, causing a wreck while texting and driving, or while under the influence of drugs or while drunk, would warrant the award of punitive damages. There are many other factors that may be considered in whether or not punitive damages are awarded. The primary factor is the extent of the negligence of the driver that hit you. The law recognizes that people make mistakes and sometimes the mistakes cause injuries. But, when the mistake is caused by an extreme act of negligence, additional damages of punitives may be warranted.

In my client's case, the accident occurred on a rainy night and the negligent driver failed to stop his vehicle in time to avoid hitting my client. My client was entitled to special damages for his medical bills and lost wages, and he was also entitled to damages for his pain and suffering. But, I had to tell him, in his case, punitive damages were unlikely.

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