After a jury has returned a verdict in favor of a plaintiff in an Alabama personal injury case, the jury will then determine the appropriate amount of compensation that the plaintiff should be awarded. This compensation is called “damages.” In Alabama, there are two types of damages awards that a plaintiff can recover:  compensatory damages and punitive damages.Compensatory damages are designed to put the plaintiff back in the place they were before they were involved in the incident. Categories of compensatory damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for any pain and suffering endured as a result of the accident. In general, there is no limit to the amount of compensatory damages that a plaintiff can recover.

Punitive damages are focused not on the suffering of the victim but on the wrongdoing of the defendant. As a result, punitive damages are designed to “punish” a defendant for especially egregious conduct. In Alabama, punitive damages are not available in all cases, and a plaintiff must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant committed fraud, acted with malice, or acted with a “reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

Punitive damages can be substantial. However, under Alabama law, they cannot be exorbitant. Courts will consider each award of punitive damages on a case-by-case basis. A recent Alabama appellate opinion discusses punitive damages, as well as the factors a court will consider in determining whether the award was excessive.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were injured in a car accident that they claimed was the fault of the defendant, who was drunk at the time of the accident. The plaintiffs filed an Alabama personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, and, after a jury trial, the plaintiffs were awarded both compensatory and punitive damages. The defendant appealed the award of punitive damages, claiming that they were excessive.

On appeal, the court affirmed the punitive damages awards. The court explained that it considers several factors when reviewing a punitive damages award for excessiveness. Specifically, the court looks at:

  • The reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct;
  • The disparity between the actual harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award;
  • The award in relation to the awards in other comparable cases;
  • The defendant’s profit from his misconduct;
  • The defendant’s financial position;
  • The cost of the litigation;
  • Whether the defendant has been subject to criminal sanctions for similar conduct; and
  • Other civil actions arising out of similar conduct.

Here, the court determined that the only two factors that applied were the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct and the defendant’s financial position. The court also explained that the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct was the most important factor and should be afforded ample weight in the analysis. The court also noted that the trial court had reasonably determined that the defendant was not a credible witness regarding his own financial situation, and it afforded his testimony no weight.

As a result, the only factor the court was left to consider was the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct. The court determined that given the fact that the defendant was voluntarily intoxicated at the time of the accident, the punitive damages award was appropriate.

Have You Been Injured in an Alabama Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Alabama car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Attorney Greg Reeves has extensive experience handling Alabama car accident cases, and he understands the nuances of this area of the law. When appropriate, he will not hesitate to aggressively pursue punitive damages on his clients’ behalf. Call 256-355-3311 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Reeves today.