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The honest answer is yes, but only in VERY RARE, specific cases. Especially in Virginia.

Virginia is a pure contributory negligence state. This means, in order to even begin to qualify for punitive damages in court, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was one hundred percent liable for the accident. Yes, the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was at least one percent liable for the accident. Regardless of how at fault the defendant was, the plaintiff must prove that they contributed no factors to the cause of the crash.

The best chance that a plaintiff has to receive punitive damages is if the defendant was DUI. However, even a DUI is not a clear shot case for punitive damages. On top of the DUI, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted egregiously and with no regard for the safety of those around them. It must be evident that the defendant knew their actions would cause such harm to the potential victim and still carried out their actions with this knowledge.

Steps Should You Take to Pursue Punitive Damages

 It is important to remember that punitive damages are not compensatory. The Virginia Supreme Court defines the purposes of punitive damages as:

  1. To punish the defendant
  2. Deter the defendant from acting in the same reckless way again
  3. Deter and warn others from taking the same dangerous action

Punitive damages are also tough to receive because the case must have enough evidence that the judge and jury will not have any second thoughts about rewarding punitive damages. If they do reward punitive damages, there is a state cap of $350,000 that cannot be exceeded.

The judge and jury have the final say on whether the plaintiff can receive punitive damages in court, so for any chance to receive punitive damages, the plaintiff must have a solid case with a surplus of evidence to back up the case.

Evidence can include:

  • Credible witness statements
  • Expert opinions
  • Medical records
  • Photographs of the scene
  • Police reports

Again, the best chance of receiving punitive damages in a car accident case would be if the defendant was DUI. Also, unlike the common .08 BAC legal limit, the defendant must blow almost twice that with a .15 BAC to be considered a DUI. This is another reason why punitive damages are so hard to obtain in a car accident case.


Regardless of how tough it is to receive punitive damages in a car accident case, it is always smart to reach out to an attorney before completely writing off punitive damages in your case.

Brian Glass
Virginia personal injury lawyer selected to SuperLawyers Rising Stars List and the NTLA's Top 40 Under 40.