Unfortunately, car accidents can cause catastrophic injuries that require expensive surgeries and long-term therapy. Accident victims might file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver responsible for their injuries in order to recoup the costs of their medical expenses and even lost wages due to time off work. If the driver who caused the accident was breaking the law when the collision happened, such as by driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then the lawsuit may also seek extra money for the victim in the form of punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

In contrast to compensatory damages that seek a specific amount of money to pay for an accident victim's actual medical expenses or destroyed property, punitive damages are designed to punish the driver responsible for an accident and hopefully deter them from acting in such a manner in the future. If the driver committed a serious violation of the law that led to the car accident, the victim's personal injury lawyer might recommend seeking punitive damages in civil litigation. For example, if the liable driver was speeding excessively or driving while drunk, the lawyer may calculate a sum of money that discourages the person from ever driving that way again and causing harm to another person.

How a Criminal Case Affects a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Criminal defense proceedings and civil litigation are treated separately under the law. This means that even if the driver responsible for the accident isn't convicted of drunk driving or another criminal charge, the accident victim can still pursue a civil lawsuit depending on their state. If the driver is convicted of violating the law at the time of the accident, that may add weight to an accident victim's claim and help prove that the other driver caused the accident by driving recklessly. However, it's important to note that when a convicted individual must serve jail time and has their estate depleted due to paying court fines, there may not be much money left to pursue in a civil lawsuit. An accident victim's personal injury attorney may recommend filing a suit against that driver's insurance company and accepting a settlement.

Whether a personal injury lawsuit will include punitive damages depends on the individual situation and state law. An accident attorney can explain your legal options, especially in special circumstances where the driver who caused the accident did not have car insurance.