Punitive damages are rarely awarded in California personal injury cases, but they’re appropriate when the facts meet the standards set by state law. They won’t compensate you for the harm you suffer. They punish the defendant, discourage it from taking similar actions in the future, and act as a warning to others who might do the same.
Juries award punitive damages after a trial. Some attorneys accept personal injury cases, and if they don’t settle, another attorney takes the case to trial. The Hicks Law Firm doesn’t operate that way. Insurers know we will go to trial, so they take settlement negotiations seriously. If you need help after you or a loved one is injured in an accident, call the Hicks Law Firm at (949) 541-9944.
What Does the Law Say?
State statutes determine what damages a personal injury plaintiff can obtain as part of an insurance claim or jury verdict. California Civil Code Section 3924 discusses punitive damages. It states:
- The plaintiff needs to prove by clear and convincing evidence (it’s highly probable the allegations are true)
- The defendant is guilty of fraud, oppression, or malice
- The plaintiff, in addition to collecting other damages, may recover punitive damages to set an example for others and to punish the defendant
The clear and convincing evidence standard is higher than what’s typically needed in a personal injury case – the allegation is more likely than not true. The statute provides these definitions:
- Malice: The defendant acts intentionally to cause the plaintiff injury, or their “despicable conduct” is carried out with a “willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
- Oppression: This is “despicable conduct,” subjecting a person to “cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.”
- Fraud: Means an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or hiding of a material fact the defendant knows with the intent to cause injury or deprive a person of property or legal rights
These terms need more clarification:
- Despicable conduct: These are actions so vile, contemptible, miserable, and wretched that ordinary, decent people would look down on them
- Conscious disregard: Indifference that’s willful and knowing
Given the high standard of proof and the defendant’s conduct needs to be outrageous, intentional, or so extremely negligent it shows indifference to others, a punitive damages award is unusual, but they happen.
Punitive Damages are Awarded in Extreme Cases
Punitive damages can be awarded if a defendant acted intentionally, took extremely negligent action, or failed to act. Depending on the circumstances, they can add up to millions of dollars. Here are some examples.
- Drunk Driver
The California Supreme Court ruled injuries caused by a drunk driver can result in punitive damages. In this case, the driver:
- Previously caused a severe automobile accident while driving under the influence of alcohol
- He had been arrested and convicted for drunken driving on numerous prior occasions
- At the time of the accident, the driver had recently completed probation following a drunk driving conviction and was facing another drunk driving charge
- Wrongful Death /Negligent Hiring
In a Texas case of negligent hiring, a cable TV company was found liable for the death of a customer murdered by one of its field technicians. The jury found his employer didn’t perform a background check before hiring him. If they did, the company would’ve found he lied about his work history.
- Product Manufacturer
Surviving sons of an elderly Georgia couple received punitive damages in a lawsuit brought against Ford. Their parents were killed in 2014 when their Super Duty F250 pickup truck rolled over, crushing the cab. The plaintiffs in this product liability case claimed Ford knew their pickup truck roofs were dangerously weak for decades, but they failed to correct the problem and continued to sell them.
- Alleged Rapist
A New York jury ordered a film director and producer to pay punitive damages after finding him liable for raping a film publicist. The defendant wasn’t criminally charged, and the publicist sued him in civil court for damages.
Do You Think You May Be Entitled to Punitive Damages?
Simple negligence causes most accidents where a driver or a property owner makes a mistake that causes injuries. Punitive damages may be awarded if the party acted intentionally or without caring what may happen to others. We may seek them depending on the facts we find after investigating your accident.
At the Hicks Law Firm, we have successfully represented individuals injured in many types of accidents. Our team of attorneys can help recover all the damages you may be entitled to, including punitive damages. Schedule a complimentary case consultation by contacting us today.
Aaron Hicks is a civil trial attorney and founder of Hicks Law Firm, based in Orange County, also with offices in San Diego and Tennessee. His current practice includes representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases.