Another driver crashes into you at an intersection when you had the right-of-way... you survive, and when you get out of the hospital you talk to an auto accident attorney who will help you to get full and fair compensation for the injuries that the careless driver caused...
The other driver was negligent, and that is why they must pay for the damages they caused. But, what happens if they intentionally caused the accident, or if they were criminally negligent?
When does an auto accident become a criminal offense, and how does that affect your recovery if you are the accident victim?
Criminal Offenses that Result from Auto Accidents
If an auto accident is caused intentionally, it's likely that it will also be a criminal offense and the other driver will be arrested.
Are there types of accidents that are not intentional, but that can still result in the other driver going to jail?
Although it is rare, a car wreck that is caused purposefully is a crime that is likely to end up in both civil court (your lawsuit) and criminal court. The other driver could be charged with:
- Assault and battery;
- Attempted murder
- Leaving the scene of an accident or hit and run; or
In other cases, the at-fault driver may not have intentionally crashed into your car, but their negligence may still be considered criminal.
Ordinarily, when a person is negligent, that subjects them to civil liability and a lawsuit to recover the damages that you suffered because of their negligence. When a person's negligence is criminal, they are still liable to you for damages, but they are also criminally liable and may be arrested and convicted of a crime.
Some of the more common examples of criminal negligence include:
- Felony DUI where great bodily injury or death results;
- Vehicular homicide; and
- Child neglect (although this does not usually involve a car wreck).
Do you still file a lawsuit when the other driver has been arrested? How does it impact the damages that you can recover from the other driver or their insurance company?
How Does Criminal Negligence Affect Your Lawsuit?
When the other driver was drunk or committed a crime that resulted in the car crash, jurors are more likely to award higher damage amounts in your case.
They are also more likely to award punitive damages, and the fact that a crime was committed may result in there being no cap on the amount of punitive damages that the jurors can award...
Sometimes you will hear attorneys talk about the "shock value" of a case. It's not an actual category of damages, but it's a fact that jurors will return with higher verdicts when the at-fault driver's conduct was outrageous.
If they intentionally caused the accident, if they were committing a crime when they caused the accident, if they fled the scene and were caught later, or if children were involved in the accident, the facts of a case can "shock" jurors and make them want to punish the bad actor.
Although they are not intended to "punish," awards for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering or mental anguish are more likely to be higher in these cases. If you were a juror, how much money for "pain and suffering" would you think is appropriate where:
- A driver is speeding, loses control of their car, and crashes into another vehicle where an adult is hurt and briefly hospitalized;
- A driver is speeding, loses control of their car, and a child is hospitalized as a result;
- A driver is drunk, crosses the center line and hits another car, and an adult is hospitalized; or
- A driver is drunk, crosses the center and hits another car, a child is killed, and the child's little sister is hospitalized...
Punitive Damages When an Auto Accident is Criminal
When the other driver's conduct was grossly negligent or intentional, the Court can award punitive damages to punish them and to deter future similar conduct.
But, the SC legislature has capped punitive damages in most civil cases - tort reform at work, protecting businesses and insurance companies...
In the most shocking cases, however, there is no cap on punitive damages.
Ordinarily, punitive damages are capped at 3x the actual damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. That is increased to 4x the actual damages when the defendant's conduct could have resulted in a felony conviction - whether the other driver was arrested or not...
There are no caps on punitive damages when the crash was intentional, the other driver was convicted of a felony based on the crash, or when the other driver was drunk or high on drugs.
Settlement or Trial?
Insurance companies will try to settle these cases quickly, and possibly for far less than they are worth...
The insurance company knows that they are exposed to greater verdicts when their insured committed a crime during the crash. They can even be exposed to verdicts greater than the policy limits, which could expose them to an insurance bad faith claim if they failed to settle the case for policy limits.
Your SC auto accident attorney will investigate your case, gather the evidence that is needed to prove maximum damages, identify what the policy limits are and whether there are any additional sources of recovery, and give you advice as to whether you should settle your case or ask a jury to compensate you.
If you were hurt in a car wreck caused by someone who was grossly negligent or who intentionally hurt you, "shock value" and punitive damages will be part of any settlement negotiations with Axelrod and Associates.