Can I Claim Punitive Damages in a car accident case?
Sometimes in personal injury or wrongful death car accident cases, it might be obvious that a defendant should be “punished” for his or her reprehensible actions. In these types of cases, punitive damages should be argued – but it is important to understand however that punitive damages are not often awarded in car accident cases. However, when a driver willfully and recklessly causes injury or death to another motorist, pedestrian or cyclist – victims or families of victims may able to collect added punitive damages. The conduct must be egregious and the wrongdoer’s conduct must be in total disregard for public safety.
Punitive damages are damages that are not compensatory (meaning that they are not intended to recompense someone who has experienced loss, suffering, or injury). Rather, punitive damages are intended to address the purposes of retribution, deterrence and denunciation. Courts normally limit punitive damage awards to misconduct which markedly departs from decent behavior and are reserved for wrongful acts that are so “malicious and outrageous that they are deserving of punishment on their own.” Unlike the USA, our Court have clearly indicated that punitive damages should only be awarded in exceptional circumstances.
Judge Gerow, in the case of Thomson v. Friedmann, reviewed the factors a court should consider when determining whether punitive damages should awarded – and if so, how much. She outlined the following:
a) punitive damages should be assessed in an amount reasonably proportionate to such factors as the harm caused, the degree of the misconduct, the relative vulnerability of the plaintiff and any advantage or profit gained by the defendant;
b) punitive damages should take into account any other fines or penalties suffered by the defendant for the misconduct in question;
c) punitive damages should generally only be awarded where the misconduct would otherwise be unpunished or where other penalties are or are likely to be inadequate to achieve the objectives of retribution, deterrence and denunciation;
d) the purpose of punitive damages is to give the defendant her or his “just dessert”, deter the defendant, and others, from similar misconduct, and to mark the community’s collective condemnation of what has happened. Punitive damages are only awarded when compensatory damages are insufficient to accomplish these objectives;
e) punitive damages are awarded in an amount that is no greater than necessary to accomplish their purposes and are generally moderated; and
f) the court should assess whether the conduct of a defendant should be punished over and above the requirement to pay non-pecuniary, pecuniary and aggravated damages.
Punitive damages have been awarded against defendants in motor vehicle cases. For example:
• In a recent case called Howell v. Machi, the Supreme Court of British Columbia awarded $100,000.00 in punitive damages against a driver in a hit and run accident.
• In a case called McIntyre v. Grigg the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced a jury’s $100,000 punitive damage award to $20,000 against a defendant driver that hit a pedestrian. The driver’s blood alcohol level, at the time of the accident, was two to three times over the legal limit;
• In a 2017 case called McCaffery v. Arguello, 2017 BCSC 1460 (CanLII), I awarded $30,000 in punitive damages arising from a road rage incident.
• In a 1991 case called McDonald v. Wilson, Judge Hood awarded $5,000 in punitive damages and $1,000 in aggravated damages against a defendant driver who intentionally tried to strike the plaintiff.
• Similarly, in Stevenson v. Vance, $2,500 in punitive damages was awarded against a defendant who intentionally ran over the plaintiff’s legs after stealing from a store in which the plaintiff worked as a security guard; and
• In in a 1998 case called Herman v. Graves, a plaintiff was awarded $3,500 in punitive damages arising from a road rage incident and.
In some cases, Courts may be reluctant to award punitive damages if a Defendant has already been dealt with by the criminal courts. If a Defendant has been convicted of a criminal offence such as impaired driving causing bodily harm and that a custodial sentence has been imposed with a period of driving prohibition, some Courts have taken the position that it would be inappropriate for a civil court to go behind the determination of the criminal court and substitute its own finding as to whether that sentence appropriately met the objectives of retribution, deterrence and denunciation.
It is important to note that punitive damages are about conduct – they are meant to punish the wrongdoer. If you believe that you or a family member has been hurt or violated by such an egregious act or a conscious disregard for public safety, please call us at (905) 333-8888, fill in a contact form or chat with out live operator, 24/7.
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