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How to Sue for Punitive Damages After an Injury in California

Accident victims in California often resort to civil courtrooms to pursue compensation for their injuries and damages after an accident. In nearly all accident cases, the damages that they seek are known as compensatory damages. These damages operate to give victims justice after being injured in an accident. In personal injury law, there is another set of damages known as punitive or exemplary damages. These damages are rarely sought though. Punitive damages operate to punish and make an example out of a defendant and deter others from even thinking about malicious or extremely reckless behavior.

If you were the victim of an accident, and you believe that the behavior that caused your accident and injuries was malicious, despicable or extremely reckless, you’ll want to speak with a California personal injury lawyer at Maison Law about pursuing punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages that you deserve.

Punitive Damages are More Difficult to Prevail On

Section 3294 of the California Civil Code controls awards of punitive damages in the state. If a defendant was guilty of oppression, fraud or malice, this section allows punitive damages to be awarded. Oppression, fraud and malice are defined by the statute as follows:

  • Oppression: Despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.
  • Fraud: Intentional misrepresentation, deceit or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.
  • Malice: Conduct of the defendant which is intended to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.

Meeting the Burden of Proof for an Award of Punitive Damages

In a personal injury case, a plaintiff has the burden of proving his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence. What that means is that the plaintiff’s version of events is more likely true than not true. When punitive damages are sought, the plaintiff’s burden increases. There must be clear and convincing evidence for an award of punitive damages. Clear and convincing evidence operates to show that evidence is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue. This burden is somewhere between a preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are a few examples of when punitive damages might be awarded in a case involving injury to the person:

  • Accidents involving driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two.
  • Injuries resulting from intentional acts like assault, battery or sexual violence.
  • Incidents involving the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  • Making knowingly false and malicious statements involving a person’s reputation.

Contact a California Punitive Damages After an Injury Lawyer Today

Punitive damages can’t be awarded by themselves. Some type of compensatory damages must also be awarded first. As punitive damages are non-economic in nature, these damages don’t have specific price tags on them. Although California doesn’t limit awards of punitive damages. any such award must have a reasonable relation to the actual injury. If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident anywhere in California, and you believe that the defendant’s act or failure to act was so reprehensible as to seek punitive damages, contact us at Maison Law right away, and we can arrange for a free consultation and case review with a California personal injury lawyer. You’ll be listened to carefully and you’ll be advised as to whether you’re a suitable candidate for punitive damages in California.

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