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Punitive damages: when are they available in motor vehicle accident cases? P.2

Last time, we began looking at the topic of punitive damages and their availability in motor vehicle accident cases, specifically cases involving truck drivers who violate safety regulations. As we noted, punitive damages are not a given in every case, but are only available when it can be shown that the defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice.

Not only that, but strong evidence must be put forward to prove eligibility for punitive damages. The standard of proof, “clear and convincing evidence,” is higher than the ordinary civil standard of preponderance of the evidence, and essentially means that a plaintiff must prove it is highly likely that the defendant acted oppressively, fraudulently or maliciously. In the context of the violation of trucking safety regulations, this would be difficult to prove, but strong evidence could certainly make the task easier.  

In addition to eligibility for damages, there is also the issue of the amount to be awarded. If a jury is involved in the case, this is an issue decided by the jury. A variety of factors are supposed to be considered when determining the amount of the award, including:

  • The likelihood that serious harm would result from the defendant’s misconduct
  • The defendant’s awareness of that likelihood
  • The extent to which the defendant’s misconduct was profitable to him or her
  • The length of time the misconduct went on and any efforts to conceal it
  • Whether the plaintiff took any actions to remedy the misconduct once he or she became aware of it

For those involved in a truck accident, or any motor vehicle accident where the defendant acted out of malice or fraud, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to ensure the plaintiff has the best possible shot at maximizing his or her damages. 

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