Recently, Las Vegas news outlets reported on an unidentified woman who stole a pick-up truck and proceeded to cause a series of crashes. According to reporters, she intentionally crashed into a patrol vehicle, then continued speeding as she crashed into several other cars on her way.
In most car accidents, the plaintiff must prove negligence in order to recover economic and non-economic compensatory damages. These damages cover financial losses as well as pain and suffering resulting from the accident.
In cases where a driver acts particularly egregiously in causing the accident, a plaintiff may also recover punitive damages. Nevada law offers the possibility of punitive damages when the defendant’s actions are fraudulent, malicious or oppressive.
A defendant acts with malice when he or she either intends to cause injury or engages in bad behavior with deliberate disregard for others’ safety. In the new story above, the culprit’s actions offer an example of behavior that likely rises to this level. Some other indicators may include driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, extreme speeding, or deliberately aggressive driving.
Concurrent criminal charges
Conduct bad enough to qualify for punitive damages often triggers criminal charges as well. However, you may be able to recover punitive and other damages even if ultimately prosecutors dismiss the criminal case or a jury delivers a not guilty verdict. This is because criminal trials require a substantially higher level of proof than civil actions such as personal injury lawsuits. Proof that may fail during a criminal trial can often stand up in a civil proceeding.
Limits on recovery amounts
In a basic car accident case, Las Vegas caps punitive damages recovery at $300,000 if other damages amount to less than $100,000 or at three times the compensatory damages amount if it adds up to $100,000 or more. However, in some cases, no cap exists on punitive damages at all. These exceptions include car accidents caused by a driver impaired by drugs or alcohol, cases where an insurer acts in bad faith, or the case involves the manufacture or sale of a defective product.