Although not commonly awarded, punitive damages can be a vital part of a personal injury case. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are intended to punish defendants for certain wanton, willful, or deliberate acts. They are not available in every single personal injury case, but when they are, they are often an essential legal redress.
Will my Virginia personal injury case qualify for punitive damages?
Whether punitive damages are obtainable in a particular case is a matter of law, since a certain threshold must be met to even be able to make such a request. There are statutes and case laws that summarize why, where, and when punitive damages would be considered appropriate.
At Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp, our experienced Virginia personal injury attorneys can evaluate your case and determine if your case is one in which punitive damages might be awarded. We will also know what evidence to present in order to make a valid claim for punitive damages, and how to educate the triers of fact on how much should be awarded.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in Virginia?
In Virginia, punitive damages are awarded where the law permits and where a trier of fact (a jury or a judge), determines they are merited. There are only a few types of cases in which these damages may be awarded. As their name suggests, punitive damages were created to penalize offenders for actions that are “wantonly, oppressively, or with such malice as to evince a spirit of malice or criminal indifference to civil obligations.”
Some instances in which extreme actions garner appropriate punitive punishments include car accidents involving a driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15% or higher, purposeful acts like assault, sexual assault, or other injury, and cases involving the wanton and willful disregard of another person’s rights.
The benchmark for awarding these damages is quite high, but if and when punitive damages are warranted, the trier of fact should show resolve in awarding them as they send a clear message to the public that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.
How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?
The triers of fact calculate punitive damage awards. There is no specific dollar amount attached to certain behaviors. Each case is as unique as the calculations that accompany it.
Virginia is one of several states backing the current fad of legislating tort reform laws that reduce a jury’s right to make decisions. Among other things, these reforms seek to put caps on personal injury damage awards, including a $350,000 cap on punitive damages. Virginia juries are not informed of this cap. So, if they exceed the maximum allowable punitive damages in an award, it will then be reduced by a judge.
What Factors Does the Court Consider?
When determining punitive damages, multiple factors are taken into consideration by the court, including the severity of the damage, the degree of wantonness or willfulness in the misconduct, and the ease with which the conduct could have been prevented.
How Can a Virginia Personal Injury Attorney Help?
If you have decided to file a claim against the person who caused your injuries, it is almost certainly in your best interest to work with an experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer to help you through the legal process. A qualified attorney can determine whether punitive damages might apply to your case, establish the best way to present the evidence to ensure that you qualify and present the strongest case possible aimed at obtaining the best results for your situation.
If you have questions about how punitive damages could relate to your Virginia personal injury claim, call the law firm of Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp at (833) 997-1774 to schedule a free case review.
For over twenty years, Mr. Sharp's law practice has focused on serious personal injury claims, including traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury claims. He also handles nursing home neglect cases and medical malpractice claims. Mr. Sharp has counseled numerous clients about the complexities concerning litigation of both pediatric and adult brain injury.