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Can You Request Punitive Damages in Your Cedar Falls Personal Injury Case?

A personal injury claim seeks financial compensation for accident victims. The fact is that accidents are enormously expensive. A bodily injury like a fracture or whiplash can require thousands of dollars in immediate medical care, not to mention lost income when people are in too much pain to return to work. There are also ongoing expenses in many cases, such as rehabilitation.

At Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C., we can request compensatory damages for your losses. But this article is about something else: punitive damages, also called exemplary damages in Iowa. Sometimes, we can request punitive damages for our clients, which can increase the amount of money they take home. Call us to find out more about whether we can help your case. We have offices in Iowa City and Waterloo and are available 24/7. We will also drive out to meet you, if circumstances allow.

Compensatory Damages versus Punitive Damages

Most personal injury cases are for compensatory damages. These damages include the financial and non-financial costs of an accident:

  • Financial losses: medical care, car repairs, property damage, lost income or wages, and any other financial loss flowing directly from the accident.
  • Non-financial: pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and disfigurement.

These compensatory damages seek to make you whole. Our job as your lawyer is to show how the accident has damaged you, and then seek financial compensation to make up for it.

Punitive damages are different. The focus is on the defendant: how to punish them for particularly bad conduct. Punitive damages should act as a deterrent so the defendant never commits these bad acts again. A high punitive damages award can also deter other members of the public.

When Can You Request Punitive Damages?

These damages are not available in every case. Most accidents are based on negligence, meaning the defendant was insufficiently careful. A motorist who briefly looks at a text message is certainly negligent, and they are liable for compensatory damages if they hit a pedestrian or another driver. But this type of negligence would probably not warrant punishment.

Instead, Iowa limits punitive damages to situations where the defendant’s actions exhibit a willful and wanton disregard for other people’s safety. This is more serious, culpable conduct than mere carelessness.

Here are examples of conduct which warrants punitive damages:

  • Intentional misconduct, where the defendant intentionally hurt you.
  • Reckless behavior, where a defendant took an unnecessary risk they were aware of.
  • Drunk or impaired driving, when it leads to a collision and injuries.
  • Failure to fix a dangerous defect on property which has caused previous accidents on the premises.

In these situations, the defendant did not make some brief lapse in judgment. Instead, they engaged in dangerous conduct which they know puts other people in jeopardy.

Clear Evidence

Anyone requesting punitive damages needs to come forward with clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that shows the defendant’s conduct was willful and wanton. This is a high bar. It’s higher than the general standard for personal injury cases, which is merely preponderance of the evidence.

Contact an experienced Cedar Falls personal injury lawyer at our firm. We know what evidence is convincing at establishing egregious conduct. For example, we might search for toxicology results if a drunk driver hit you. Or we can investigate other accidents on a piece of property caused by an unaddressed defect. The more high-quality evidence we can find, the greater your odds of success.

No accident victim should seek punitive damages without the help of a lawyer. You might fail to present sufficient evidence to establish you deserve these damages, and you get one shot at trial. Contact Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. today.

Who Decides Punitive Damages?

In a jury trial, the jury will decide whether punitive damages are warranted and, if so, how much. If you have a bench trial, then the judge will decide these facts.

The amount a victim receives depends on several factors. One is whether the defendant’s conduct was directed at you. If so, you can receive 100% of the punitive damages awarded. For example, an angry coworker might have deliberately struck you in the parking lot. That is intentional conduct which warrants punitive damages. And, because you were the intended target, you should receive 100% of what a jury awards you.

If the conduct wasn’t directed at you—but you were hurt anyway—then you can receive 25% of the damages, with the remainder going to the state’s trust fund. But there are exceptions to this rule, if you were injured in a medical malpractice case or in an accident with a commercial vehicle.

Iowa does not have any punitive damage caps, which is good news. In other states, tort reform measures have limited the amount victims receive. Iowa has not yet gone down that road. You should receive an amount that will serve as adequate punishment against the defendant. However, the U.S. Constitution generally prohibits punitive damage awards that are more than 10 times your compensatory damages.

Should You Request Punitive Damages?

Requesting exemplary or punitive damages makes sense in certain accidents. Let our legal team review. Some behavior is so shocking that a defendant should be punished. Punitive damages make sense in:

  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Intentional actions, like assault and rape
  • Some medical malpractice cases
  • Trucking accidents, where trucking companies openly flout safety regulations
  • Product liability cases, where manufacturers know of a defect but hide it

Our firm has wide experience in all types of Cedar Falls personal injury cases.

Reach Out for a Consultation with a Member of Our Firm

Call Ball, Kirk & Holm, P.C. as soon as you can following any type of accident. We are a prominent personal injury law firm in Iowa. Our lawyers can negotiate for a settlement for your injuries, or file a lawsuit in court, where appropriate. We strive to obtain meaningful compensation for bodily injuries and emotional distress, and we can discuss whether to seek punitive damages in your case. Schedule your consultation today.