The short answer is yes, but only in limited circumstances.
Let’s jump in and answer the most important information you need to know about punitive damage claims in personal injury cases.
1. What Are Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Case?
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are a type of compensation awarded in addition to compensatory damages in certain personal injury cases. Unlike compensatory damages that aim to compensate the victim for their actual losses, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their egregious conduct and deter similar behavior in the future.
2. Can I Seek Punitive Damages In A Personal Injury Case In New Mexico?
Yes, you can pursue punitive damages in a personal injury case in New Mexico, but certain conditions must be met. Under New Mexico law, punitive damages can only be awarded when the defendant's conduct was "malicious, willful, reckless, wanton, fraudulent, or in bad faith." The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's actions were not only negligent but also displayed a conscious disregard for the safety and rights of others. This is the key requirement. It must go beyond just ordinary negligence to the point that someone would likely respond, “that’s outrageous!” when told about the facts.
Punitive damages are not available in all personal injury cases. They are typically reserved for cases where the defendant's conduct is especially reprehensible. For example, punitive damages might be sought in cases involving drunk driving accidents, intentional torts, or cases where the defendant's actions were particularly reckless.
3. What Is Required To Prove Eligibility For Punitive Damages?
To be eligible for punitive damages in a personal injury case in New Mexico, you must establish the following elements:
- The defendant engaged in conduct that goes beyond ordinary negligence.
- The defendant's conduct was malicious, willful, reckless, wanton, fraudulent, or in bad faith.
- The defendant's conduct caused your injuries.
4. How Is The Amount Of Punitive Damages Determined?
If the court determines that punitive damages are appropriate, the amount is usually left to the discretion of the jury. The jury will consider factors such as the severity of the defendant's conduct, the harm caused to the victim, the defendant's financial resources, and the need to deter similar conduct in the future. If your case is not in litigation, an insurance company adjuster would often evaluate the facts and include an amount for punitive damages when justified. The amount is negotiated with the insurance company in a similar manner to other damages in a personal injury claim (Beware though- see number 5 below!)
5. Will Insurance Cover Punitive Damages?
In many cases, insurance policies do NOT cover punitive damages. They typically cover compensatory damages arising from negligence or accidents. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their intentional or reckless conduct, and insurance policies often exclude coverage for intentional acts.
6. How Can An Attorney Help With Pursuing Punitive Damages?
An experienced personal injury attorney in New Mexico can help you navigate the legal process, gather evidence to establish the defendant's egregious conduct and present a strong case for punitive damages. They can also help you understand your rights, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent your interests in court if necessary.
7. Should I Consult An Attorney About Pursuing Punitive Damages?
Absolutely. Pursuing punitive damages requires a thorough understanding of New Mexico's complex legal standards and procedures. Consulting with a knowledgeable New Mexico personal injury attorney can help you assess the viability of your claim, build a compelling case, and increase your chances of obtaining the compensation you deserve.
Remember, each personal injury case is unique, and the applicability of punitive damages depends on the specific facts and circumstances. It's essential to consult with an attorney who is familiar with New Mexico law to determine the best course of action in your situation.
Our dedicated personal injury team here at The Injury and Disability Law Center is here to help you. Schedule your free initial consultation today by calling our office at 575-300-4000, starting a chat, or filling out our online form.
If you want even more information, feel free to download my free book, Car Accident Cases Made Simple(r), where I discuss this topic and more.