When someone else makes a poor decision that turns your life upside down, it can feel like no amount of compensation is enough. Not only do you want to have your losses covered, but you also want to make sure that the person who is to blame for your situation is held accountable to the fullest extent possible. As a result, you might be thinking about filing a claim for punitive damages.
In Louisiana, as in other states, punitive damages are not available in all cases. In fact, Louisiana law only allows auto accident victims and families to claim punitive damages in certain specified circumstances. These circumstances include accidents caused by drunk and drugged drivers. Here is an overview of when – and how – accident victims and families can seek punitive damages in Louisiana:
When are Punitive Damages Available in Louisiana?
As their name suggests, punitive damages are intended to punish a bad actor for his or her misconduct. Punitive damages are also referred to as “exemplary damages” in Louisiana, as they also serve to set an example that deters similar misconduct in the future.
In this way, punitive damages are very different from the other damages—compensatory damages—that are available to car accident victims and their families.
In order to seek compensatory damages (damages for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses), accident victims and families need proof of negligence. All drivers owe a legal duty to operate their vehicles safely, and breaching this duty constitutes negligence under Louisiana law. Generally speaking, a driver will be considered negligent if he or she makes a mistake that leads to an accident.
However, in order to support a claim for punitive damages, a driver’s conduct must be worse than a simple mistake. In legal terms, this is referred to as “wanton and reckless disregard.”
The Louisiana Civil Code recognizes two primary forms of“wanton and reckless disregard” in car accident cases. These are (i) driving under the influence of alcohol, and (ii) driving under the influence of drugs. If your (or your loved one’s) car accident was caused by an impaired or intoxicated driver, then you may have a claim for punitive damages under Louisiana law.
How Do You File a Claim for Punitive Damages in Louisiana?
Filing a claim for punitive damages involves the same basic procedures as seeking compensatory damages. This means that you need to file an insurance claim, you need to prove that the other driver was at fault (specifically, that he or she was intoxicated or impaired), and you need to work with a personal injury attorney to prove how much you are entitled to recover.
Proving that the Other Driver was Intoxicated or Impaired
There are a variety of ways to prove that someone was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In order to determine whether you can pursue a claim for punitive damages, your lawyer will need to conduct an investigation and determine what evidence is available. Some examples of the types of evidence that can be used to prove intoxication or impairment include:
- The police report
- The driver’s own statements at the scene or on social media
- Eyewitness testimony
- Photos showing bottles or drug paraphernalia in the driver’s car
- Video footage showing the driver’s vehicle moving erratically
- A receipt from a bar or restaurant
- The driver’s DUI conviction
Other forms of evidence may be available as well; and, when seeking punitive damages, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible. In order to give yourself the best chance of securing punitive damages, you will want to hire a lawyer to conduct an investigation right away.
Proving How Much You are Entitled to Receive in Punitive Damages
When seeking punitive damages, it is up to you to determine how much you feel is justified. The insurance companies won’t calculate your punitive damages (or compensatory damages) for you, and there is a chance that you may need to prove your right to punitive damages at trial.
Under Louisiana law, the maximum amount of punitive damages that can be awarded is 10 times the plaintiff’s compensatory damages. When determining what amount should be awarded, Louisiana law requires consideration of factors such as:
- The nature and severity of the other driver’s conduct
- The future risk that the other driver presents to other motorists
- The severity of the harm endured by the victim or the victim’s family
As you might expect, seeking punitive damages is not easy, and insurance companies (and other defendants) usually won’t pay without a fight. As a result, you need to build a compelling case, and you need to be prepared to do what is necessary to secure the damages you deserve. It will be important for you to speak with an attorney as soon as possible; and, if you have a claim for punitive damages, your attorney will need to begin gathering evidence right away.
What if You Can’t Recover Punitive Damages?
Even if you can’t recover punitive damages (for example, if the evidence shows that the other driver was negligent but not necessarily that he or she was drunk), it is still well worth pursuing a claim for compensatory damages. The financial and non-financial costs of car accidents can be substantial, and they can impact all aspects of victims’ and families’ lives. Seeking compensatory damages also ensures that the driver is held accountable, and it helps reduce the chances that he or she will make the same mistake again.
Find Out if You Have a Claim for Punitive Damages – Schedule a Free Consultation Today
Are you entitled to punitive damages for a car accident in Louisiana? To find out, schedule a free consultation with Louisiana car accident lawyer Chris J. Roy. Call 318-487-9537 or contact us online to discuss your case in confidence as soon as possible. We handle all cases on contingency, so you pay nothing unless you win.