Punitive Damages Available After a Vehicle Accident?

We have all seen it; a person tailgating another aggressively, a drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic on the freeway, a driver yelling at another driver and laying on their horn. These acts on the California roadways are egregious.  A driver that causes a motor vehicle accident in one of the above-mentioned scenarios has opened themselves up to personal liability for punitive damages.

California Civil Code section 3294(a) on Punitive Damages:

Where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.

Civil Code section 3294 justifies an order for punitive damages on the basis of conscious disregard for the safety of others. In a road rage motor vehicle incident, DUI with injuries, hit and run and/or a reckless driving incident the accused driver has likely assaulted and then battered the other driver with the intent necessary to recover punitive damages. If you have been injured because of one of these incidents, you are the victim of oppression, fraud, and/or malice for which punitive damages may be recoverable if it can be proven that the driver was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his conduct, and that he/she willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.

Proving that a defendant is guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice at the hands of a reckless driver is difficult can likely only be accomplished by a skilled and seasoned attorney. Each case is analyzed for the intent necessary to secure punitive damages for our clients.