Accidents happen. They often occur because of unintentional negligence. For example, a driver is distracted by a sign on the side of the road, and in that split second, they do not notice the car braking ahead of them. They did not mean to cause injury or harm, but their momentary negligence had real consequences. While most personal injury claims are due to this form of unintentional behavior, there are cases when a person is deliberately negligent — when their actions are purposeful, calculated, and meant to cause harm. In these instances, the victim can seek punitive damages, and the court might allow it.
Punitive Damages Versus Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are awarded to cover proveable costs. For example, a victim may seek repayment for their medical expenses or the repair of their personal property. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are speculative. There is no finite way to determine costs or repayment. However, based on the egregiousness of the act, the court might allow a jury to decide the fair monetary reward. In some states, these rewards might be limited. Although, it can all depend on the crime and the evidence. Punitive damages are designed to punish the at-fault party, whereas compensatory damages are only meant to help recoup losses.
Civil and Criminal Cases
You might be asking, “if punitive damages are the result of intentional harm, then doesn’t that mean the defendant can be criminally charged?” Yes. However, that has no bearing on your civil case. A person can be charged for a crime, and the victim can seek damages for their injuries. These things might not occur simultaneously, but they can happen, and a criminal judgment does not affect civil proceedings. For example, O. J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder, but the family of his alleged victims filed for wrongful death and won their civil claim. People often suggest that this is not fair and that the rule of double jeopardy applies, but this is not so. Double jeopardy only refers to criminal actions, not civil ones.
Therefore, if you have been injured, and you feel you are the victim of a crime, call the police and hire a personal injury attorney. Intentional harm is a criminal act, but you still deserve to see your day in civil court and possibly receive punitive damages for your injuries.