Accidents happen. And, when they do, a negligence case can help you recover for pain and suffering, medical bills and other “compensatory damages.” But, what if the collision wasn’t exactly an “accident”? Can you get more?
In a road rage case, where I intend to hurt you by deliberately slamming into the rear of your vehicle, you could get extra damages designed to punish the other driver for malicious conduct. Such “punitive damages” are about as rare as road rage accidents.
But what if I accidentally struck you while pursuing another vehicle? Even though you were not my intended victim, shouldn’t I be punished nonetheless? Shouldn’t I get hit for more than “compensatory damages”?
Maybe. But, according to a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the plaintiff better have some pretty solid facts to back up these types of allegations. In Hendrix v. Burns, the plaintiff’s Toyota Corolla was struck in the rear by a drunk driver’s Jeep Cherokee. According to one witness, this intoxicated driver displayed conduct consistent with “road rage.” Just prior to the collision, the witness saw his Jeep drive in front of another car, slam on his brakes so that the other driver had to do likewise, get out of the Jeep, walk angrily to that driver’s window and speed through a red light after that driver eluded him.
Although the Court concluded that the Jeep’s driver “was enraged at the [other] driver for some unknown or irrational reason,” this evidence wasn’t enough to prove that he intended to hit the other car or otherwise inflict bodily harm. Without legally sufficient evidence of an intent to harm someone else, the plaintiff could not use these irrational actions in pursuing punitive damages.
Of course, the plaintiff did win an $85,000 negligence claim to cover her pain and suffering, medical bills and other “compensatory damages.” But without more evidence of an intent to cause bodily harm to herself or to the other driver, she was denied a bonus on top of that.