The value of your car accident case is driven by the personal injury damages available. In any car accident, the injured party has to prove that the at-fault driver breached a duty of care and was the cause of the victim’s injuries and property damage. Once the elements of negligence are established, there are three types of damages available; nominal damages, compensatory, or actual damages, and punitive damages.
Nominal damages, or very small sums, are sometimes awarded by juries who find the defendant did breach the duty of care, but did not cause substantial injury to the plaintiff. They are also awarded in cases when the plaintiff is unable to prove the dollar amount of the actual injury. Even $1.00 in nominal damages can be awarded by a jury. Obviously no plaintiff is looking for a $1.00 reward, but in some cases, nominal damages can support an award of punitive damages, so in that regard they are necessary, if an actual damage amount cannot be proven.
Compensatory, or actual damages, are meant to make the victim of an accident whole again. Although that is never 100 percent possible, actual damages, intended to make you whole, include all of your past and future medical bills, your out-of-pocket expenses (like parking, or OTC medications), lost wages or income, pain and suffering, lost earnings and lost earning capacity for the future, emotional distress, permanent disability or impairment of a body part or function, sexual dysfunction, disfigurement, scarring, loss of consortium of a spouse or companionship of a spouse, and even loss of enjoyment of life. Although it is difficult to put a dollar figure on some of these things (like loss of life enjoyment), the only thing a jury can award is monetary damages, so courts will allow lawyers to monetize even intangible losses like loss of consortium. Actual damages can be thought of as compensation for all injuries that flow naturally from a person’s negligent behavior. Although you are not required to prove your damage amounts with mathematical precision, the existence of the damages cannot be speculative, nor can the causation. Compensatory damages must be proved to some reasonable degree of certainty.
According to South Carolina law, a plaintiff can seek punitive damages in a car accident case when he or she can prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted willfully, in a way that was wanton, malicious, or in reckless disregard for the rights of the injured party. “Wanton” is defined as a person who does not show thought or concern for the feelings, rights, or safety of others. Consciously failing to exercise due care establishes willfulness.
Punitive damages, although a nice extra for an injured plaintiff who was injured due to the reckless or wanton actions of the defendant, are not actually awarded as compensation to the victim. Instead, punitive damages are awarded as punishment to the wrongdoer, and a warning to everyone else that such behavior is unacceptable. In most cases, punitive damages are capped at either three times the amount of the compensatory damages, or at $500,000; whichever is larger. If punitive damages are not sought in the complaint, you will not be entitled to them, yet another reason why having an experienced car accident attorney is critical.
Call an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
The car accident attorneys at David Aylor Law Offices are well versed in every type of damages available for your negligence claim, and under which circumstances it is appropriate to seek punitive damages. Call or email us now, and let us see how we can help you. We offer a free consultation, so call now.