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What Are Punitive Damages? A Car Accident Attorney Explains.

By: Fred Moore | Mar 5, 2024

Knowing which types of damages you may be able to recover when you’re hurt in an accident is vital. At Moore Law Firm, our car accident attorneys are committed to helping clients in the Mobile, AL, area understand their rights after a crash. So, what are punitive damages and how do they work in Alabama? A car accident lawyer explains.

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

In Alabama, two types of damages may be recovered when you’re hurt in an auto accident – compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages are intended to “make the plaintiff whole” for any injuries and losses they have suffered. This may include medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the plaintiff but are instead meant to punish a defendant for particularly egregious or reprehensible conduct. They also act as a deterrent to prevent the negligent party and others from committing similar acts.

If a defendant’s behavior was so reckless that they knew their actions would lead to injury or harm to another, they may be found liable for punitive damages. For example, if your injuries were caused by a drunk driver or someone who was deliberately driving in a dangerous or aggressive manner, asking for and obtaining punitive damages may be a possibility in your case.

How Are Punitive Damages Determined?

Punitive damages are awarded in only a very small percentage of cases. To recover punitive damages in a car accident injury case, a plaintiff must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with oppression, fraud, malice, or wantonness, which is defined in Alabama Code 1-11-20(b)(3) as “reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

There must be a reasonable basis and evidence of malice, deceit, or wantonness for a plaintiff to seek punitive damages in a car accident lawsuit. To deter frivolous claims, a court may impose monetary sanctions on the plaintiff and their attorney for seeking punitive damages if there is a lack of evidence to support their claims. To avoid being penalized for a frivolous claim, it’s essential to have an Alabama car accident attorney review your case to determine whether you’re entitled to seek punitive damages.

How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

In Alabama, punitive damages awarded in cases that involve physical injury may be up to three times the amount of compensatory damages, with a cap of $1.5 million. However, because punitive damages are the only type of damages awarded in wrongful death claims in Alabama, there is no limit on how much an estate may receive when someone dies due to another’s wanton or malicious behavior.

Courts consider punitive damages on a case-by-case basis. Each circumstance is unique, and a judge or jury takes various factors into account when determining the dollar amount of an award. This may include the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s financial circumstances, the need for deterrence, the potential harm to the plaintiff and others, and any compensatory damages awarded. The goal is to ensure that punitive damage awards are fair and proportionate to the defendant’s misconduct while serving the broader goals of punishment and deterrence.

How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help You Seek Punitive Damages in Alabama

Car accident cases involving punitive damages usually are complex and challenging. Alabama has specific procedures, deadlines, and evidentiary standards for seeking punitive damages. The car accident lawyers at Moore Law Firm can help you avoid potential pitfalls that could sabotage your case. We advocate for your rights and interests both inside and outside the courtroom.

An auto accident attorney will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash and gather evidence of the defendant’s misconduct. This may include obtaining police reports, gathering witness statements, and hiring accident reconstructionists and other experts. Bringing all these elements together and creating compelling arguments that show punitive damages are warranted requires the experience and knowledge of a personal injury lawyer who’s well-versed in Alabama law.

Most car accident claims are settled out of court. Having a personal injury attorney negotiate on your behalf gives you a much better chance of obtaining the maximum amount of compensatory and punitive damages you may be entitled to receive.

Contact a Car Accident Lawyer in Mobile, AL

For nearly four decades, Moore Law Firm has served more than 15,000 personal injury victims in Mobile, AL, and the surrounding areas. If you’ve been hurt or have lost someone in a car accident, we can evaluate your case and determine whether seeking punitive damages is appropriate. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with an auto accident lawyer, call 251-445-7602 or use the convenient chat feature on our website to get in touch.