Punitive Damages in Virginia Injury Cases

Punitive damages are a category of damages that tend to be a very important aspect of a personal injury case. Punitive damages are meant to punish wrongdoers for certain intentional, willful, or wanton acts. Punitive damages are limited in that they are not available in every case, but in cases in which they are available, they can be a very important resource.

Whether or not punitive damages are even available in a particular case is a question of law, as there must be a certain threshold met in order to even qualify to ask for these damages. There is specific case law and statutes that outline when and where and why punitive damages are appropriate. Experienced personal injury lawyers can analyze the case to help you decide whether or not your case is one in which punitive damages may be awarded, how and what evidence must be presented in order to make claim for punitive damages, and then how to instruct the fact finder on what level of punitive damages to award.

When Punitive Damages are Awarded

Punitive damages are awarded in Virginia cases where the law allows and where a fact finder, meaning a judge or a jury, decides they should be awarded. There are only certain categories of cases in which punitive damages are available. By their very definition, punitive damages are meant to punish wrongdoers for extreme acts. Some of the examples in which extreme acts garner appropriate punitive damages are motor vehicle accidents involving a person with high blood alcohol content in excess of .15, intentional acts such as sexual assault, assault or other injury, and other cases involving willful and wanton disregard of the rights of another person.

The standard for awarding punitive damages is high, but when they are appropriate, the fact finder should not hesitate to award punitive damages as a message to society to help garner positive conduct and discourage negative conduct.

Calculating Punitive Damages

The finder of fact, meaning the judge or the jury, calculates punitive damages as a way to send an adequate message to the wrongdoers regarding their acts. There is no dollar-for-dollar way that they are calculated because punitive damages are unique to every case. They are meant to punish the level of wrongdoing and also to send a message to society at large that certain types of wrongdoings and intentional acts are not to be tolerated.

Factors the Court Will Consider

Courts consider a variety of factors in determining punitive damages. In summary, some of these factors include the degree of damage of the wrong to have occurred, the level of willfulness or wantonness in the wrongdoer’s conduct, and the degree to which the conduct was easily preventable.

For example, if the conduct was a very blatant assault with a helpless victim, there is a likelihood of more punitive damages than if it was a simple fight that got out of hand. Under the same thought process, cases involving blood alcohol content of .15 of over, where the person had no prior offenses, may warrant less punitive damages than a higher blood alcohol content where the person has had multiple offenses or was otherwise on notice that their drinking and driving was a serious problem.

How an Injury Attorney Can Help

When someone has decided to file a personal injury claim, it is generally in their interest to hire an attorney to guide them throughout the process. A Virginia attorney will determine whether or not punitive damages are applicable in a case, how best to present the punitive damages, including meeting the necessary elements in order to qualify, and then present the appropriate argument to obtain the best possible outcome.