Punitive damages are awarded against a party to a wrongdoing, who committed the act with ill intent and malice. In other words, a party who intentionally causes harm and injury may be sued for, among other damages, punitive damages. These damages can constitute a significant portion of the recovery in an injury claim, in large part because the whole purpose of punitive damages is to punish the intentional wrongdoer or “teach a lesson”
Generally, however, a victim in an auto accident, motorcycle crash, or other injury accident, is not entitled to recover punitive damages because most the injury accidents are caused by ordinary negligence – failure to act as a reasonable prudent person under the circumstances.
However, in some injury cases, claiming punitive damages would be appropriate. One of the accident injury claims I have recently handled in San Francisco involved a situation where my client “cut” in front of another driver after passing an intersection. The other driver then followed my client and crashed into his vehicle after my client was already parked, after which a verbal altrication which escalated to physical violence took place. It is obvious from the facts of the accident that the wrongdoer collided into my client on purpose. Thus, the award of punitive damages will be appropriate and will likely significantly increase my client’s recovery.