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Compensatory and Punitive Damages in Car Accident Cases

Recoverable Damages in a Car Accident

In Pennsylvania, 227 people a day on average are injured in accidents involving automobiles. A person involved in a car accident who is injured or suffers property loss may be entitled to recoverable damages. "Damages" is a legal term for compensable losses, and it normally involves compensatory damages but can in some scenarios encompass punitive damages as well.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

In almost all cases involving automobile accidents, the damages that the victim is entitled to are compensatory damages. The victim could be a driver, passenger, pedestrian, bicyclist and so on. Such damages are intended to make the plaintiff whole. In other words, they’re intended to compensate the plaintiff for a broad range of losses that were incurred through no fault of his or her own. Common types of compensatory damages that juries and judges award include:
  • Lost income
  • Future lost earnings
  • Existing medical expenses
  • Future medical expenses
  • Vehicle damage
  • Pain and suffering

How Are Compensatory Damages Determined?

Often, these cases don’t progress all the way to trial or even require a judge and are instead settled. In such a scenario, your Allentown accident attorney would determine your damages and then negotiate for that amount with the responsible parties. If your case does make it to a jury or judge, your attorney will present the same kind of information, but the judge or jury will make the final determination. In order to make this decision, the jury will seek answers to questions such as:
  • What are the total medical bills?
  • Are future medical care and rehabilitation required?
  • Did the accident affect the plaintiff’s ability to earn?
  • Does he/she suffer from PTSD, anxiety and so forth?

What Are Punitive Damages?

car accidentPunitive damages are a special category of damages. As opposed to compensating a victim, these damages are assigned in order to punish the responsible party or parties, and this is why punitive damages are so uncommon in lawsuits involving car accidents. When it’s deemed that exemplary damages are appropriate, the determination is made by considering:    
  • The harm suffered by the plaintiff
  • How much harm may occur if the defendant isn’t punished
  • The behavior and character of the defendant
  • How much the defendant is worth in terms of assets

When Is a Car Accident Plaintiff Eligible for Punitive Damages?

Not all states allow for punitive damages in such cases. Pennsylvania injury law does allow for it if the conduct of the defendant is deemed "outrageous." It’s worth noting that exemplary damages are usually not awarded due to mere negligence, and inattention and carelessness are often what cause accidents. Even unreasonable behavior may not be enough, and whether a person behaved outrageously often comes down to whether there was:
  • Recklessness
  • Gross negligence
  • Wanton or willful disregard

Insurance Claim or Auto Accident Lawsuit?

Damages aren’t limited to lawsuits. If, for instance, you make a third-party claim with the company that insures the driver who was at fault, any financial settlement you receive is considered damages. Even if this avenue is open to you, it behooves you to hire an Allentown accident attorney who can work to ensure that the insurance company treats you fairly and pays out an appropriate amount. If the insurer won’t pay an appropriate amount, your lawyer can pursue a lawsuit. Whether you receive compensation via a lawsuit or settlement, it could encompass:
  • Total loss of vehicle, which is the actual cash value
  • General damages, such as for pain and suffering
  • Special damages, such as for medical bills and loss of income

Recover Damages and Protect Your Rights

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, seek out an Allentown accident attorney today. At Metzger & Kleiner, we focus on all forms of personal injury law cases and would welcome the opportunity to consider yours. Call us at (610) 435-7400 if you're anywhere in the Lehigh Valley. If you're in Philadelphia, call us at (215) 567-6616.

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