Exploring Punitive Damages in Fatal Truck Accident Cases: When Are They Applicable?

Serious truck accidents are devastating and catastrophic events for victims. It is estimated that more than 150,000 people are injured in nationwide commercial truck crashes each year. A substantial number of these victims are innocent motorists who were hurt due to someone else’s negligence. Truck accident victims could be entitled to compensation for their injuries depending on the circumstances of the crash. The exact amount and type of compensation depend upon many factors.

In this article, we will explore a special class of damages known as punitive damages and when they might be applicable to your case. While not available in every case, they can be a powerful tool for victims under the right scenario.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a truck accident, you should always contact an attorney regarding your legal rights. Here at Burg Simpson, our national truck crash lawyers have many years of experience assisting victims and family members following truck accidents. We will always fight to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Available Damages in Truck Crash Cases  Exploring Punitive Damages in Fatal Truck Accident Cases: When Are They Applicable?

Victims of trucking accidents often wonder what their legal rights are following an accident. In general, there are two types of legal damages that come into, economic or compensatory damages, and special damages. Economic damages are designed to compensate victims for the loss of money resulting from a crash. More specifically, economic damages are typically the following:

  • Medical and Prescription Bills: The cost of any medical treatment and prescriptions related to injuries suffered in the crash. This includes both past, current, and future expected medical care as a result of your injuries.
  • Lost Wages: The amount of money that you lost due to your inability to work following the crash.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity: If the crash resulted in more permanent or long-standing injuries that interfered with your future expected wages, you may be entitled to recover for loss of future earning capacity.

In addition to economic damages, the other class of damages available to crash victims is known as special or non-economic damages. These include the following types of damages:

  • Pain and Suffering: The extent to which the crash caused both physical pain and interference with your daily activities, including mental and emotional trauma stemming from the accident. Pain and suffering is a subjective damages amount, meaning that it cannot be calculated with any precise formula. Instead, it is typically presented as the overall negative impact you sustained because of the accident.
  • Loss of Consortium: In some states, the spouses and relatives of accident victims may be able to assert a claim for loss of consortium, or loss of love and affection, resulting from injuries sustained by the victim.

Recovering Punitive Damages

In addition to economic and special damages, the law recognizes a third category of damage claims known as punitive damages. Whereas economic and special damages focus on the injuries sustained by the victim, punitive damages focus on the conduct of the negligent party. In a typical case, punitive damages may be awarded for especially egregious or reckless behavior of the Defendant.

Mere negligence is not sufficient for an award of punitive damages. A driver who rear-ends a vehicle because they were distracted by something else is not likely to receive a punitive damages claim. However, other types of conduct may support an award of punitive damages. The most common punitive damages claims arise in the context of impaired drivers. Impaired driving is generally considered reckless enough behavior to bring a punitive damages claim. Other types of conduct may include excessive speeding, or driving with a known vehicle defect that endangers the safety of others.

The intent of punitive damages is to punish the bad actor for negligent behavior and to deter such behavior from others. For this reason, they are a powerful tool for attorneys to use when advocating on behalf of their clients.

The Value of a Punitive Damages Claim

The amount that can be potentially recovered in a punitive damages claim is uncertain. Like special damages discussed above, there is no precise mathematical formula that is used to calculate these damages. There are several factors that are evaluated when determining the claim, including the nature of the conduct, the resources of the defendant, the harm to the victim, and what steps, if any, were taken to prevent the conduct from occurring. Very large punitive damage awards are not unprecedented.

Some states have enacted laws that place a limit or cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded by a judge or jury. For example, in Colorado, C.R.S. 13-12-102 generally prohibits injured victims from recovering a punitive damage award that exceeds the value of their compensatory or economic damages. The law does allow punitive damages up to three times the amount of actual damages in certain cases. Other states have enacted their own cap or limiting formulas, while some states have placed no restrictions or limits on punitive damages. The exact amount of available punitive damages will depend on the jurisdiction where your case is to be heard.

Hire a National Truck Crash Lawyer

It is not uncommon for truck accident damages to be well into six figures. In cases of fatal crashes, the number can be even higher. Having an accurate and realistic picture of your available damages is an extremely important piece of information for victims in order to make decisions about their cases. The availability of punitive damages is a key consideration and can be used to leverage a favorable settlement in appropriate cases. In cases that are tried by a jury, a punitive damage claim can result in a higher verdict.

Here at Burg Simpson, our national truck accident lawyers are here for you during your time of need. We will ensure that you receive the benefit of all potential damages claims in your case, including punitive damages if they are applicable. We provide free consultations for all potential clients. To schedule your time to speak with one of our attorneys, please reach out to us using our online intake form or give us a call at (866) 696-1750.

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