Recovering damages in an automobile accident lawsuit can sometimes be very complicated.  Most damages in an automobile accident lawsuit fall under the category of “compensatory damages”.  These are damages that are meant to compensate the injured party for their losses or injuries.

Compensatory damages can include payments for:

  • Medical expenses (such as hospital bills, medication, and therapy)
  • Losses due missing work (lost wages)
  • General damages like pain and suffering or loss of consortium

Most damages awards in automobile accident claims involve past losses, since they are somewhat easier to prove.  However, it is common for the injured plaintiff to recover damages for future losses, such as lost earning capacity. 

Can I Recover Punitive Damages in an Automobile Accident?

Punitive damages awards are usually awarded when the defendant has demonstrated some form of willful, malicious conduct, or has engaged in extremely reckless behavior.  Since most automobile accidents involve only negligence and not intentional acts, punitive damages awards can be somewhat rare.

However, punitive damages (also called “exemplary damages”) might be awarded when the following factors are present:

  • Excessive speed
  • Violations of traffic laws and road rules
  • Intoxication (DUI or DWI)
  • Driver incompetence (especially if the driver is unlicensed)
  • Driving while knowing that the car is in poor condition

Punitive damages sometimes allow the plaintiff to recover a much higher amount than the compensatory damages.  But in most cases, the plaintiff needs to be able to prove compensatory damages before they can be awarded punitive damages. 

Also, some states do place a limit on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded (usually, this is stated as an amount “relatively proportionate” to the compensatory damages).   

What is Comparative Fault?

Comparative fault refers to the fault of the injured plaintiff in comparison with the fault of the defendant who caused the accident.  For example, if the defendant rear ended the plaintiff, but the plaintiff had a broken tail light, they may be held partly liable for their own injuries.

In cases where the plaintiff is liable to some degree for the accident, the court may choose to limit or even prohibit a compensatory damages award.   This idea is sometimes known as “contributory negligence”, which means that the plaintiff’s own carelessness was a factor in the accident.  

Most states will not completely eliminate a compensatory damages award if there is a finding of contributory negligence.  However, the plaintiff’s damage award may be reduced in amount that is proportionate to their percentage of liability.  This can often be a very complex calculation requiring the assistance of an expert witness.   

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Recovering Damages in an Automobile Accident Lawsuit?

Recovering damages in an automobile accident may require the assistance of a personal injury lawyer.  If you need help filing a lawsuit for your losses, you may wish to contact a personal injury attorney in your area.  A qualified lawyer can provide you with valuable legal advice and can represent you in court during the lawsuit.