Cars in traffic

Do Insurance Companies Cover Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Case?

By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

No, most liability insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for punitive damages, including car accident cases. If your collision involves facts that might justify an award of punitive damages, you might want to check on the assets of the defendant before pursuing this type of compensation. The vast majority of car accident claims or lawsuits do not involve punitive damages. 

A California car accidents attorney can evaluate your car accident case to see if it might be a candidate for punitive damages. Let’s explore the issues involved in the question of whether insurance companies cover punitive damages in a car accident case.

Factors You Must Prove to Get Punitive Damages

It is rare for punitive damages to get awarded in a typical car accident injury case. The defendant’s conduct must be shocking and extreme to justify punitive damages. California law requires that the defendant’s actions were malicious, despicable, or showed a willful or conscious disregard for the safety of others to support an award of punitive damages.

Ordinary mistakes or carelessness usually do not rise to the level of maliciousness or other shocking conduct required to get an award of punitive damages. The question of punitive damages gets addressed on a case-by-case basis and is subjective.

  • A driver who texted while driving and has no history of causing accidents with that behavior is unlikely to get ordered to pay punitive damages. On the other hand, someone who live-streams driving pranks on social media regularly and has received multiple tickets for doing so might be a candidate for punitive damages.
  • A first-time DWI offender might not get ordered to pay punitive damages, but a person with three or four DWI offenses who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that greatly exceeds the legal limit might have to pay punitive damages to someone who gets injured because of the driver’s alcohol impairment.
  • A pedestrian crossing the street legally in a crosswalk with the traffic signal gets struck by a car that intentionally rammed the walker after recognizing the pedestrian as the driver’s business competitor. The driver could get ordered to pay punitive damages. 

Usually, punitive damages for car accidents require the defendant to have made the same mistake in the past, so they should have known how the consequences of their actions could harm others. Sometimes, as in the pedestrian accident, the defendant engages in an intentional act that is malicious.

Types of Money Damages in Car Accident Cases

Typically, a person injured in a car accident caused by someone else can seek compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. Usually, the claim does not include punitive damages.

However, if the claim does include punitive damages based on shocking or malicious conduct, the injured person can still pursue compensation for their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses. A request for punitive damages does not prevent the injured person from seeking the typical types of compensation. We understand that money damages in car accident cases can be confusing. You will want to talk to a California personal injury attorney to find out what kinds of compensation you might be able to pursue in your situation. You can contact us today for a free initial consultation with no obligation.

About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.