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How Often Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

In short, Punitive Damages are not often awarded. 

According to the DOJ, in cases where the plaintiff prevailed in their case, only about 6 percent actually receive punitive damages. This average has not trended upward either. It is easy to believe that in DUI accident cases, the plaintiff is likely to receive punitive damages from the guilty party. Unfortunately that is never the case. Punitive damages are extremely hard to receive because the plaintiff needs to provide the judge and jury with fool-proof evidence, as they ultimately decide whether the plaintiff will receive the punitive damages, which is something that varies in each case based on the circumstances. 

Virginia is possibly one of the hardest states to receive punitive damages.

Why is it So Hard to Receive Punitive Damages in Virginia?

It is particularly challenging to win a punitive damages lawsuit in Virginia. This is due to Virginia's tough requirements for a drunk driver to qualify as a DUI:

If the plaintiff is able to prove that the at-fault driver qualifies as a DUI in Virginia, that would just be the first hurdle. The next obstacle is proving that the plaintiff did not have any contributory negligence in the accident. It is important to note that Virginia is a Pure Contributory Negligence state. When the plaintiff is attempting to receive punitive damages, they need to give the judge and jury enough evidence to prove that they were not even 1 percent liable in the accident.

The defendant will push hard to prove that the plaintiff may have been at-fault even if the defendant was charged with a DUI. If the plaintiff ran through a red light, did not stop at a stop sign, or merged in front of the defendant, then the defendant would be able to shut down the punitive damages lawsuit. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant was 100% liable in order to receive punitive damages.

Another caveat is that the plaintiff needs to prove to the judge and jury that the defendant, without a doubt, acted in an intentional or negligent manor in causing harm to the plaintiff. 

Also, if the plaintiff is attempting to receive punitive damages in a case where they are suing for pain and suffering i.e. a case where they did not succumb to any physical injuries, then the likelihood of them receiving punitive damages will drop even further. Generally, punitive damages are only allowed in court if the case contains a personal physical injury, such as a broken leg in a car accident.

If the plaintiff awarded punitive damages, it can never exceed $350,000 in Virginia. There is no loophole. $350,000 is the cap.

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