When someone is injured in an accident as a result of negligence, they have the option of pursuing compensatory damages to account for their medical expenses and other losses. On rare occasions, though, punitive damages may also be available. The purpose of punitive damages is to deter the faulty party from engaging in that kind of conduct again and to send the message to the community that that those actions will not be tolerated.
Most awards of recoverable damages do not include this type, but there are certain situations where it may be warranted. David E. Gordon can answer your questions as to whether you could seek punitive damages after a car accident in Memphis.
Which Situations Might Call for Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are awarded in a car accident case when the defendant is found to have behaved in a reckless manner that is “not tolerated in a civilized society.” A person could seek punitive damages if the defendant was driving while intoxicated, which is against the law, or if it can be proven that the defendant crashed into them on purpose. It may have arisen out of a domestic dispute or was retaliation for another incident.
Punitive damages could also come as a result of gross negligence in a local car accident, such as driving recklessly. For example, if two cars are racing in the street, and one of them strikes a pedestrian or another vehicle, that could be the basis for punitive damages.
How Punitive Damages Factor into the Four Steps of an Injury Claim
There are four main chapters to an injury claim that David follows. The first is getting the injured person the proper medical treatment that they need. The second chapter is record-gathering, where the lawyer collects reports, medical records, and bills related to the accident and the medical care, to analyze and help build a case.
Chapter three is negotiation and settlement, which starts with a demand packet. This packet outlines all of the treatments and losses that the plaintiff has endured, as well as photographic evidence. This is sent to the insurance company for the purpose of determining a reasonable settlement award. However, it may be difficult to get the defense to agree to pay out punitive damages in a settlement.
Most cases will never get to chapter four, which is a lawsuit. If the insurance company does not agree to a settlement, then filing a lawsuit is the last resort. Sometimes insurance companies do not pay what the plaintiff deserves, necessitating a lawsuit. At other times, the injured person may still be receiving treatment for their injuries at the one-year mark. If punitive damages are a necessary component of the recovery, filing suit might be the best option.
How an Attorney Handles Punitive Damages in a Case
Because punitive damages are ordinarily not covered by a passenger motor vehicle policy, most lawyers will try to maximize the compensatory damages portion of the case. In other words, rather than trying to split a jury award between compensatory damages and punitive damages, most lawyers believe they can do better for the plaintiff if they focus on compensatory damages only.
Punitive damages are uncommon in Tennessee because automobile insurance policies do not protect against them. An injured person might get an award of $100,000 for their injury and another $200,000 in punitive damages, but the defendant’s insurance company will only pay the $100,000. There would then be no coverage for punitive damages after the car crash in Memphis.
Commercial policies, such as those covering trucking companies, may pay punitive damages. If you can show that a commercial driver was unqualified, that they had been driving more hours than allowed by law, or that they had not properly inspected their truck and trailer at the outset of the journey, you may be able to get a punitive damages award.
Is it a Smart Strategy to Seek Punitive Damages?
Motor vehicle insurance policies do not cover punitive damages and many lawyers believe there is little point in trying to get punitive damages.
The better strategy may be to focus the efforts on compensatory damages. David will often try to maximize the compensatory damages with evidence of the defendant’s reckless conduct rather than have the jury separate the two amounts between compensatory and punitive. Since the punitive damages are not going to be covered by the insurance policy, it is often fruitless to demand them without a clear-cut argument.
Speak with an Attorney About Punitive Damages After a Memphis Car Accident
Although it is not common, there are specific instances where seeking punitive damages after a car accident in Memphis can be helpful. If you are unsure of whether or not to pursue them, an experienced lawyer is available to talk you through it. Place a call to David E. Gordon to discuss the merits of your case.