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Motor Vehicle Accidents

How and why of punitive damages

November 10, 2014

Compensation is typically available for individuals in Illinois who sustain damages to their person or property as a result of the actions of another. When compensation is not forthcoming, a victim may have to file a lawsuit in order to ensure the recovery of expenses. When the actions that caused an injury or fatality are particularly egregious, a judge or jury may determine that punitive damages should be awarded, as well. This type of ruling is intended to punish the defendant as a deterrent to further actions that put lives or property in danger.

Evidence must be well documented

It is not common for the courts to award punitive damages to the victim of a car accident. There must be convincing evidence that the act that goes beyond accidental or incautious behavior. Illinois statutes require proof of one or more of the following:

  • Willful disregard for the rights and safety of others
  • Reckless indifference to the risk of harm
  • Evil intent

The allegations by the plaintiff must be sound enough to satisfy a judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt.

Drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol are often the focus of successful punitive cases due to the obvious disregard for safety. Police reports and citations typically include this information, making it easy to obtain evidence. Recklessness behaviors behind the wheel may include excessive speeding or driver distraction. The high risks associated with texting and driving often lead to a successful punitive case. These activities are also typically easy to document and present in court.

Malicious intent to harm may not be as easily proven unless the plaintiff has evidence of a written threat, or witnesses to attest to a warning of harm. A victim typically needs to allege punitive damages at the beginning of the lawsuit or the defendant may indicate there was not ample opportunity to provide a defense against the claim.

States set limits on awards in most cases

Some past judgments have exceeded what many lawmakers consider reasonable. This has led most states to set limits on the award amounts and cases in which they are allowable. For example, Illinois limits punitive damages to three times the amount of the compensatory award in cases other than malpractice.

When a victim of an accident feels that there may be a basis for punitive damages, it is important to contact an Illinois personal injury attorney immediately so that proof may be acquired.

If you have been injured in a personal injury or medical malpractice accident, do not hesitate to contact the Chicago accident and injury law firm of Cogan & Power at (312) 477-2500 to schedule a free case consultation, so that we can help you begin the process of recovery as soon as possible. If you cannot come to our offices in downtown Chicago, we will come to you. And because we take cases on a contingency basis, you will not pay any fee unless we get you compensation.