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Punitive damages in personal injury cases

A West Virginia family recently filed a lawsuit against a trucking company it claims was responsible for an accident that caused them injury. The accident reportedly occurred at an intersection when an employee of MG Miller Trucking failed to step on the breaks and barreled into a group of cars.

Sources provide little details about the accident and the lawsuit, only mentioning that the family was injured and that they are suing for damages. Without knowing more, we can only speculate about the cause of the crash and the litigation itself. For instance, we don’t know whether the truck accident was caused by mere carelessness or whether the trucker and/or the company were negligent in maintaining the truck in working condition. Neither do we know whether the trucker fell asleep behind the wheel or was driving while intoxicated. 

Some of these factors, at least, could change the lawsuit in terms of what types of damages are available. In motor vehicle accidents, victims can recover damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of affection or companionship, and other compensatory damages. These are obviously important since they assist the victim in paying for costs associated with the offender’s negligence.

Another type of damages, available only in some cases, is punitive damages. The purpose of these damages is not to compensate the victim but to punish the offender and offer a deterrent to other drivers. Punitive damages are not available in all cases, but usually only ones involve particularly egregious behavior, and there may be limits on how much damages can be imposed on the defendant.

It is important to work with an attorney in building a strong damages case, both for compensatory damages and punitive damages when they are available. While the latter are not directly related to compensating the victim, they can be an important way to achieve a greater degree of justice and closure for the victim. 

Source: West Virginia Record, “Family says log truck driver caused accident,” Thomas Kallies, March 27, 2014. 

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