Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Case

Friday, September 15, 2023

Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Case

Written by Malman Law, reviewed by Steve J. Malman.

Following a car accident, you may face severe injuries, requiring months of physical therapy and follow-up doctor’s visits.

While car accident victims often receive compensatory damages, in some cases, you may be eligible to receive punitive damages. Although rarely awarded, punitive damages are reserved for situations where the defendant displayed egregious conduct.

If you have been injured in a car accident, the car accident lawyers at Malman Law would like to give you information regarding punitive damages and what factors are considered upon awarding them.

Overview of Damages

In a personal injury claim, you may be able to receive compensation for your hardship and losses. This compensation in the legal field is known as damages and is designed to make you “whole” again.

Damages can be categorized into two main groups: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are the actual losses that you sustained due to your accident.

Compensatory damages may be either economic (also called special damages) and non-economic (also called general damages).

Economic Damages

Economic damages are direct monetary losses you suffered due to your car crash. Each specific loss is organized into separate categories.

In a car accident, examples of economic damages may include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning capacity/loss of earning potential
  • Home modification and equipment costs
  • Vehicle repairs or replacement

Noneconomic Damages

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are intangible losses. Noneconomic damages typically affect the victim’s mental health and emotional well-being. Assigning a dollar amount to these losses is more difficult since they are subjective.

Common examples of non-economic damages may include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED)
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium

Non-economic damages impact a victim’s quality of life and can impede a person’s recovery. Non-economic damages often stem from the victim’s economic losses. For example, if you can no longer work and have large medical bills following a major accident, this will likely take a toll on your mental health.

What are Punitive Damages?

Unlike compensatory damages that are intended to cover your actual losses, punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer. Punitive damages are considered “exemplary” damages, since they are extra damages that may be awarded in a lawsuit only if compensatory damages are also recovered.

According to Loitz v. Remington Arms Co., Inc., 138 Ill. 2d 404, 563 N.E. 2d 397 (1990), a jury may award the plaintiff punitive damages if the defendant has acted with “willful and wanton misconduct” or with “actual malice, fraud, deliberate violence, or gross negligence.”

When exemplary damages are granted, it serves as a punishment and deters others from behaving similarly. Punitive damages are a message to society that such behavior will not be tolerated and demonstrate that our legal system will take action if you choose to disregard others’ safety.

What Factors Are Considered in Awarding Punitive Damages?

A jury will determine if a plaintiff should be awarded punitive damages. If the jury believes that the defendant behaved with malicious conduct, they will likely award punitive damages.

Before deliberating, a judge will review instructions with the jury to help them make the best-informed decision in light of the facts. These are known as jury instructions, and these guidelines summarize the law for jurors to understand easily.

A jury will likely examine the following in making their decision:

  • The nature and character of the defendant’s actions
  • The circumstances behind the car accident
  • The harm the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff
  • The value of the defendant’s assets

What If I Had a Family Member Die in a Car Accident?

In 2022, there were 1,280 traffic fatalities in Illinois, a 4% decrease from 2021. If you lost a loved one in a car accident, you may be able to bring a wrongful death action to court.

In Illinois, action can be taken under the Wrongful Death Act or Survival Act. In a wrongful death action, the plaintiff may be eligible to recover punitive damages if he or she can prove that the defendant acted with outrageous conduct or gross negligence.

Wrongful Death Act

According to the Illinois Wrongful Death Act (740 ILCS 180/1), a person’s death is considered wrongful when caused by another person’s “wrongful act, neglect, or default.” A claim brought under the Wrongful Death Act is brought by the deceased’s next of kin.

In a wrongful death action, the following damages may be requested:

  • Loss of society and comfort the victim would have provided family members
  • The deceased would have provided the family with financial support: food, shelter, clothing, paying bills, etc.
  • Services the deceased would have provided for the household: grocery shopping, cooking, housekeeping, etc.

Survival Act

In addition, family members can file a survival action. Under the Survival Act, family members can recover damages on behalf of the victim. In essence, it is a personal injury lawsuit that the victim would have filed had they not succumbed to their injuries.

Any monetary award allows family members to cover the expenses that transpired from their family member’s passing. If the plaintiff recovers in a survival action, damages will be awarded to the deceased’s estate.

In a survival action, the following damages may be requested:

  • Deceased’s lost wages
  • Deceased’s medical expenses
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Estate administration costs
  • Pain and suffering the deceased experienced after the accident to his or her time of death

In Illinois, the decedent’s personal representative must bring any wrongful death lawsuit. The probate court will appoint the personal representative, who is usually the person that was named in the decedent’s will.

A Chicago Car Accident Lawyer Never Giving Up

The impact of a car accident can be far-reaching, and it is crucial that you have the right team by your side. If you believe the other driver acted with gross negligence or indifference to your safety, you must act. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation and learn how we can assist you.


Steve Malman

Malman Law’s founder Attorney Steven Malman has over 30 years of experience handling personal injury, nursing home, medical malpractice, truck accidents, car accidents, premises liability, construction, and workers’ compensation cases in Chicago, IL.

Years of experience: +30 years
Justia Profile: Steve Malman
Illinois Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law—Last Registered Year: 2024

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by President and Founder, Steven J. Malman who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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