If you or a loved one suffered a serious injury in a car accident that occurred in the state of California, it is important to understand what types of financial restitution you may be able to pursue against the at fault motorist.
Under California law, personal injury claimants have the right to pursue compensatory damages aimed at reimbursing the claimant for their medical expenses, lost wages, and overall pain and suffering. In certain instances, a claimant can also attempt to pursue “punitive” damages. However, it is important to note that punitive damages can only be pursued in specific circumstances, since they are designed to punish a defendant whose conduct was particularly egregious.
What are Punitive Damages?
The definition of punitive damages can be found in California Civil Code Section 3294. This statute makes clear that a plaintiff can only seek an award of punitive damages when there is clear and convincing evidence presented in their personal injury or wrongful death case that the defendant engaged in acts of oppression, fraud or malice. Let’s take a look at each:
- According to Section 3294, oppression is generally considered to be despicable conduct that causes a victim to suffer cruel and unjust hardship.
- Fraud is considered to be conduct that indicates the defendant knowingly deceived the plaintiff through intentional misrepresentation or concealment.
- Malice is considered to be intentional conduct designed to harm the plaintiff or conduct that reflects a disregard by the defendant for the rights and safety of others (e.g., drunk driving).
Clear and Convincing Evidence
The requirement that there be “clear and convincing” evidence of specific wrongs committed by a defendant is a big reason why punitive damages are only rarely pursued by a claimant. The standard requires that the evidence presented at trial is substantially more likely to be true than not true, and the burden is placed on you, the claimant, to reach this threshold.
Punitive Damage Award
If a plaintiff’s case meets the standard to pursue punitive damages, one of the most common questions asked is how much the plaintiff can expect to receive in punitive damages. Unfortunately, there is no clear calculation or formula that applies to all personal injury and wrongful death cases. In fact, the amount of punitive damages awarded in a particular case is generally left to the discretion of a judge and/or jury.
California currently does not place a statutory cap on punitive damages. However, it is worth noting that a number of civil cases in the state have established a general legal standard governing the award of punitive damages. The standard is that an award of punitive damages must be considered reasonable according to the level of harm that was inflicted upon the plaintiff, in addition to the amount of compensatory damages they received. So, for example, if you received a compensatory damage award of $25,000, you should not expect to receive a punitive damage worth millions of dollars. Instead, a reasonable punitive damage award would be closer to the amount of compensatory damages.
Injured in an Accident? Contact the Highly Reputable, Personal Injury Lawyer in Los Angeles, Ramtin Sadighim, Today
If you or a loved one were seriously injured in an accident, take action and schedule a free, confidential case review with an experienced attorney to obtain high-quality, personal legal representation. The Law Offices of Ramtin Sadighim is here to help. Our personal injury law firm can help you pursue the financial restitution you are owed. Contact our office today at 888.999.8744 or visit www.CaliAccidentAttorney.com to learn more.