If you’ve been in an accident and believe negligence played a role, you have the right to file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for your losses. As you will learn through the claims process, there are different types of damages you can seek—the most common being economic and noneconomic. Depending on the circumstances, however, you may be eligible for punitive damages. Let’s take a look at what punitive damages are and why they are rarely awarded in a personal injury trial.
The Purpose of Punitive Damages
While economic and noneconomic damages are intended to make the plaintiff whole, punitive damages are over and above full compensation. They are also known as exemplary damages. Essentially, punitive damages serve to punish the negligent party and deter similar conduct in the future.
In order to recover punitive damages, the plaintiff would need to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice. This is often challenging because most accidents result from negligence, not intent. For example, it’s unlikely a distracted driver intentionally hit another vehicle while they were texting. While negligence is easily proven because of the act of texting while driving, it is unlikely there will be sufficient evidence to prove malicious or evil intent.
If you believe you’re eligible for punitive damages, it’s important to understand the state laws that could impact your case. When you work with a Baltimore personal injury attorney, we can examine your situation and explain how your claim will work and what the likelihood is of receiving the compensation you’re seeking.
Punitive Damages Laws in Maryland
In Maryland, punitive damages are incredibly rare and only available in tort actions. It’s almost impossible to receive them for a personal injury action because of the difficulty with proving actual malice. In Maryland, malice is defined as “in the sense of conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, evil, or wrongful motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.”
In order for a plaintiff to be considered for receiving punitive damages, they must file a specific claim for those damages supported by a statement of facts that would entitle them to the award with the proper evidence in place. If you choose to seek punitive damages, your lawyer will ensure all the proper paperwork is in place to do so.
It’s important to note that Maryland law states that a plaintiff has no right or entitlement to punitive damages. This means that even if the evidence supports such an award, denial can still occur. In the event punitive damages are awarded, there is no statutory cap. A judge or jury decides the amount, which could be three times, five times, or even ten times as much as the compensatory damages.
According to the Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, juries should only award plaintiffs punitive damages in an amount that will deter the defendant and others from similar actions. The amount should also be proportionate to the wrongfulness of the conduct, without designing to bankrupt or financially destroy the defendant.
Punitive damages have been scrutinized in the past in Maryland. For example, the Maryland Senate passed a bill in early 2016 relating to the liability of drunk drivers. The Senate voted to make it easier for survivors of those killed by drunk drivers to recover punitive damages from “super drunk” repeat offenders. In the legislation, “super drunk” is defined as a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent—approximately twice the legal limit of .08 percent for driving under the influence. There was pushback against the bill, however, as some felt it inappropriate to single out one particular class of offender for punitive damages when the compensation is so rarely awarded in Maryland.
Schedule a Case Evaluation with Belsky & Horowitz, LLC
While punitive damages are rarely awarded for personal injury cases, our lawyers will determine if you’re one of the few with eligibility. If that’s the case, we’ll do whatever necessary to prove gross negligence was involved in the accident or incident that caused you harm.
Proving punitive damages are necessary is challenging, which is why it’s best to get in touch with us as soon as possible after your accident. Whether you were injured in a car accident or were hurt on someone’s property, we can investigate what you’ve been through and determine what you’re rightfully owed.
The sooner you contact Belsky & Horowitz, LLC, the better your chances are of maximizing your compensation. To learn more about your legal rights and options, scheduled a case evaluation with our law firm today.