In most car accident cases, the victim was harmed due to someone's negligence. Negligence is divided into two categories, simple negligence, and gross negligence. Some cases go beyond these categories, and then we are in the domain of punitive damages.
Before we get into the details of punitive damages cases, we need to define what negligence is.
The Definition of Negligence
Simple negligence is when someone fails to use the necessary amount of caution to avoid causing injury. Gross negligence is when someone ignores a substantial amount of care and caution that completely neglects the safety of others. In both simple and gross negligence, the driver did not believe their actions would cause an accident, but injuries occurred as a result.
Most car accidents fall under the category of either simple or gross negligence. In both instances above, we don't typically pursue punitive damages.
Virginia has a fairly high bar of negligence for punitive damages. For a case to merit punitive damages, the defendant has to act with willful and wanton negligence. Virginia defines willful and wanton negligence as "acting in disregard or indifference to the consequences with the knowledge their actions will likely result in injury." Willful and wanton negligence does not necessarily mean that someone acted with malice, but they were aware of the dangers and chose to proceed without precautions.
What Are Punitive Damages Exactly?
Punitive damages are designed to punish one party for acting in a wanton, oppressive, or malicious manner that causes another person harm. Punitive damages are also meant to warn others about engaging in this behavior. Punitive damages are hard to prove in Virginia courts. The courts tend to err on the side of the defendant, so your attorney must be able to prove willful and wanton negligence to a jury.
Types of Cases where Punitive Damages are Considered
To give you an idea of cases that result in punitive damages, we are going to list the types of cases where we may see punitive damages. Though your case may resemble a case on this list, you will need to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney for more information.
- Accidents where the driver's blood/alcohol ratio was twice the legal limit. The driver also knew they were too drunk to drive and their intoxication caused the accident.
- Cases where a business owner directed an individual to take an action that was clearly dangerous and knew the action was likely to result in an injury.
- Other accidents and injuries caused by someone who knew their behavior was dangerous and acted with complete disregard for the danger or otherwise behaved willfully blind to the consequences.
The last example on the list is important because it covers many different types of accidents and circumstances. There are several examples of punitive damages from Virginia court cases. Most of them involve driving while intoxicated, but there are several that are harder to categorize.
An experienced personal injury attorney can tell you how likely punitive damages are in your particular case. Keep in mind, there are no "slam-dunk" cases. Many large car accidents or personal injury cases are heard by a jury, and the jury will ultimately decide the outcome of your case.
Why Punitive Damages Are Important
As of June 2017, BenGlassLaw is working on a case where our client was injured at an intersection that was being "controlled" by funeral home workers. Our client was in a funeral procession and was directed to drive through a red light by a funeral home employee.
As we have mentioned before, most drivers are unclear of the laws involving funeral processions. Drivers are not required to yield to a funeral home procession unless the procession is escorted by police.
In this specific situation, the proper action for the funeral home would have been to have police control the intersection, not their employees. The business owners were aware of the laws and yet decided not to take the extra steps.
Funeral home accidents are conspicuously common throughout the United States. The outcome of our case could result in a warning to all funeral homes in Virginia reminding them it is their obligation to keep drivers in processions safe.
For more information about car accident and personal injury cases in Virginia, you can download a FREE copy of my book Five Deadly Sins That Will Wreck Your Injury Claim. You can also contact BenGlassLaw at (703) 584-7277.