Understanding Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases

May 4, 2024

Punitive Damages Personal Injury

In most Alabama personal injury cases, victims are awarded two types of damages: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are meant to compensate for financial losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, or damage to your car. Non-economic damages are for non-financial losses like pain and suffering or mental anguish. However, some cases involve a third type of damages called punitive damages.  Punitive damages may only be awarded when the at-fault driver’s conduct is so reckless or careless as to meet the standards permitting punitive damages under Alabama law.

Wondering if your case may warrant punitive damages? It’s time to discuss your personal injury claim with the team at Hodges Trial Lawyers. Call us at 256-826-4129 to set up a consultation now.


What Alabama Law Says About Punitive Damages

The laws regarding punitive damages are found in Alabama Code 6-11-20 through 6-11-30.

Punitive damages are only awarded in cases involving wrongful death or a defendant consciously engaging in fraud, oppression, malice, or wantonness. This is a very small subsection of personal injury claims.  Most cases do not involve this type of conduct.


When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

If punitive damages are only awarded in cases involving conscious fraud, oppression, or malice, what does that mean? Consider these examples:


  • A drunk driver choosing to drive after too many drinks and hitting someone else
  • A company knowing that their products are defective but sending them to market anyway to avoid the costs of redesigning and remanufacturing the product
  • A salesperson intentionally selling a defective product to a consumer
  • Someone intentionally attacking and causing physical harm to another person
  • A driver getting angry at slow pedestrians and willfully hitting one with their vehicle
  • Texting and driving
  • A driver knowing they are too sleepy to drive but choosing to do so anyway. 
  • Some cases of excessive and reckless speeding well above the posted speed limit


In these cases, someone is knowingly putting another person in a position where they are likely to become injured and choosing to move forward anyway. In the case of a drunk driver, some claim that the drunk driver did not know that they would cause a crash and harm someone. But the fact that drunk driving is dangerous is so widely known that any driver who chooses to get behind the wheel while impaired is accepting that risk.


The Purpose of Punitive Damages

When a plaintiff already receives damages for their financial and non-financial losses, it may be unclear what the purpose of punitive damages is. Economic and non-economic damages are for the benefit of the victim. They serve to make the victim whole or restore them to the state they were in prior to the accident (to the extent possible). Punitive damages are still paid to the victim, but their purpose is entirely different.


The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant who engaged in egregious and willful wrongdoing. By awarding punitive damages, the court hopes to punish the negligent party, dissuade them from engaging in similar behavior in the future, and discourage others from making similar choices.


Does Your Case Warrant Punitive Damages?

A small number of personal injury claims may involve punitive damages. Each claim is different and must be evaluated individually.  If there’s evidence that the at-fault party willingly engaged in unsafe behavior or intentionally put you in harm’s way, there is a chance that the court may award you punitive damages. It’s important to meet with an attorney as soon as possible after your accident to discuss your legal options and next steps.


Ready to Start Your Personal Injury Claim? Call Hodges Trial Lawyers Today

The sooner you begin working with a personal injury lawyer after an accident, the sooner your Huntsville attorney can begin building your case. Set up your free consultation with Hodges Trial Lawyers now. Just call us at 256-826-4129 or fill out our online contact form to have a team member reach out to you directly.



Understanding Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases - Alabama Law Blog

Discover how punitive damages in Alabama personal injury cases can amplify your compensation. Learn if your case qualifies and get expert legal advice from Hodges Trial Lawyers. Call 256-826-4129 for a consultation today!

Service Type: Personal Injury Attorney