Are punitive damages available after a California car accident?

Like other states, California allows injured victims in some cases to ask for what are referred to as punitive damages or exemplary damages. As with other types of cases, victims of car accidents in the Bay Area may be able to recover punitive damages under certain circumstances.

Because the goal of the civil justice system in injury cases is not to punish people who did something wrong but to compensate victims, courts can be reluctant to make a defendant pay expenses beyond what a victim actually lost. As a result, punitive damages cannot be awarded for all car accident cases.

On the other hand, the law also recognizes that some cases are serious enough to the point that a negligent or reckless driver should pay extra compensation to his or her victim just to reinforce that the driver's conduct is not acceptable behavior.

For instance, if a drunk or drugged driver caused the accident that injured the victim, then punitive damages may be available. A car accident victim may also be able to claim punitive damages if the driver who caused the accident was traveling well over the posted speed limit or was driving recklessly.

Unfortunately, these sorts of behaviors of fairly common on the roads of the greater Los Angeles area. A victim should at least ask about punitive damages as they evaluate their legal options with their attorneys.

In order to claim punitive damages, the victim must clearly prove that the person who caused the accident did so either on purpose or with very little regard to the rights and feelings of others. In other words, the person's behavior has to be more than just an accident or a lapse in judgment.

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