As a truck accident victim in New Mexico, if you successfully prove legal fault for your collision, you can be awarded multiple types of financial compensation, known as damages. The two main damage categories are compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are the most common; they reimburse a victim for the money spent after the accident, such as medical bills and property repairs. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are intended to punish the defendant(s) for wrongful conduct.
What Are Punitive Damages?
The purpose of compensatory damages is to make an accident victim whole again. It is an award meant to put the victim in the same place financially that he or she would have been in had the accident not happened. Punitive damages (also known as exemplary damages) have a different goal: to penalize a defendant. The word “punitive” means intended as a punishment. A punitive damage award may be granted to an accident victim on top of compensatory damages only in certain cases.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in a Truck Accident Case in New Mexico?
New Mexico law states that punitive damages are only available where the plaintiff (or plaintiff’s attorney) can prove that the defendant or an agent or employee of the defendant is guilty of conduct that was:
- In bad faith
The law defines willful conduct as an intentional act of wrongdoing despite knowing that harm may result. Wanton conduct is committing an act with indifference as to the rights and/or safety of others.
Common Actions That Can Lead to a Punitive Damage Award
All successful truck accident lawsuits result in compensatory damages. Not many, however, result in punitive damages. Punitive damages are most often given when a driver or another party behaves in a dangerous manner, and this causes or significantly contributes to the accident. Common examples include:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Driving while fatigued
- Texting and driving
- Willfully violating trucking regulations
- Failing to properly train truck drivers
- Hiring a driver with a known history of reckless driving
- Ignoring known truck maintenance problems
You may also obtain punitive damages if the truck accident gave you catastrophic or permanent injuries, as a way for the judge to help you recover the financial award that you deserve from the defendant(s). If you or your lawyer can prove that the defendant intentionally tried to cover up misconduct, such as a trucking company hiding a breach of federal safety regulations, this could also make you eligible for punitive damages in New Mexico.
How Is a Punitive Damage Award Calculated?
If you or your attorney succeeds in proving your eligibility for punitive damages during a truck accident lawsuit, the amount awarded is up to the judge or jury in your case. There are some general guidelines that they may use to calculate your award. For example, federal law states that punitive damages must be relatively proportionate to the actual damages awarded. This means that the amount of the damage award cannot be more than four times the amount of compensatory damages.
The courts must justify the amount of the punitive damage award based on the facts of the case, such as the level of recklessness exhibited by the defendant. The amount that a plaintiff may receive in punitive damages will depend on factors such as the nature of the defendant’s conduct and how badly it injured the victim. New Mexico does not have a cap on punitive damages, meaning that there is no limit on the amount of damages available (within reason).
How Can Hiring a Truck Accident Lawyer Help?
If you are considering filing a lawsuit for a truck accident that injured you or took the life of a loved one in Albuquerque, New Mexico, consult with a truck accident attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you understand punitive damages and whether you are eligible for this type of damage award. An attorney can also help you prove fault and negotiate for the best possible settlement or judgment for your significant losses. Your lawyer will look out for your best interests, including seeking punitive damages, when applicable.