Punitive Damages – What Are They and Are You Entitled to Them?

Pennsylvania Motorcycle Injury Attorney Examines and Explains Punitive Damages

pennsylvania-punitive-damagesMost readers of my blog understand at this point that if you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident, there’s a good chance that you are entitled to seek certain types of damages. I’ve covered these damages before, identifying, defining and explaining the types of damages to which you may be entitled, and how to initiate the process of seeking them.

As a Pennsylvania motorcycle injury attorney, it’s my job to help those who have been victims of accidents to recover these damages. But it’s my passion to help the general public, and especially the motorcycle riding community, understand the law so that if they are involved in an accident, they understand the options available to them. One of the questions I am often asked at the beginning of the claims process regards the possibility of seeking and winning punitive damages in cases where another vehicle or driver is involved.

Punitive Damages Vs. Compensatory Damages

Punitive damages are payments above and beyond typical compensatory damages. The purpose of compensatory damages is to make the victim of an accident “whole,” again. That is to help restore them to the state they were in prior to the accident in question. This generally takes the form of compensation sought by a motorcycle injury attorney for lost wages, medical expenses, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and the like.

Punitive damages on the other hand are intended to actually punish the person who was found to be at fault in the accident. The intent is to deter them from doing the same thing again. Behavior that might be grounds for the awarding of punitive damages would be conduct that goes beyond basic negligence and enters the realm of malicious, vindictive, wanton, or willfully reckless neglect.

Since most people – even big jerks – don’t get into their car in the morning intending to run down a motorcycle rider, punitive damages are not typically awarded in motorcycle accidents (or traffic accidents in general, for that matter).

That said, some instances where you may have cause to seek punitive damages include:

  • Gross incompetence on the part of the at-fault driver
  • Excessive speeding on their part
  • If the at-fault driver intentionally violated safety or traffic laws
  • If they were drunk or otherwise intoxicated
  • Prior knowledge of their vehicle’s poor condition, if they could have reasonably known that that condition could cause an accident

Besides the other driver, vehicle manufacturers, government agencies, utility companies and other entities may be named in a claim, although it is probably even more difficult to demonstrate malicious intent on the part of these more tangentially involved parties.

As a matter of law, mere negligence is not sufficient to warrant the awarding of punitive damages. An exception to this general rule, as alluded to above, is when the accident is caused by a drunk or otherwise impaired driver. Courts have held that a person who drives drunk demonstrates a “conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others,” and that “his conduct may be called willful or wanton.”

Advantages of seeking punitive damages

Punitive damages generally increase the value of the case at hand, and (in theory) benefit society as a whole by deterring drivers from operating their vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs, when they know they are in possession of an unsafe vehicle, etc.

The main task for you as a motorcycle rider involved in a multi-vehicle accident, if you think the other driver was willfully or wantonly negligent, is to get a copy of the police report. This will inform you and your attorney whether the other driver was drunk, and of the condition of their vehicle, and of their behavior just prior to the accident. Based on this information, you and your attorney can make a strategic decision regarding whether or not pursuing punitive damages makes sense for your claim.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Pennsylvania motorcycle accident lawyer Lee Gaber, Esquire at 1-888-292-5352 with any of your questions regarding punitive or general damages, especially if you’ve been involved in an accident. Your consultation in New Jersey or Pennsylvania is totally free.

Original copyrighted content by
Home | Site Map