Punitive Damages in Car Accident Cases


If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the state of Missouri, you’re entitled to compensation for your injuries and property damage. Personal injury law was developed to make accident victims financially whole after an accident. There are times, however, when the actions of the responsible party are so egregious that the courts award additional damages to punish them. These are referred to as punitive damages and in the state of Missouri, they are capped at $500,000 or five times the judgment award, whichever is greater.

How Punitive Damages are Determined 

Punitive damages are not automatically awarded in car accident cases in Missouri. They are usually only granted in situations where the defendant’s behavior warrants them

For example, consider two identical accidents that occur at the same intersection and result in the same injuries to the victim. In accident A, the at-fault driver runs a red light because their cellphone rang at an inopportune moment and they were momentarily distracted. They t-bone the victim’s car at 30 mph sending that person to the hospital with injuries.

In accident B, the at-fault driver runs the same red light and collides into the victim’s car at 30 mph sending them to the hospital with very similar injuries to the victim in accident A. The only differences are that the driver in accident B has a history of drunk driving convictions, was driving on a suspended license, and had been drinking at the time of the accident.

Although the damages are the same, the driver in accident B had a greater disregard for the law and for the safety of others. The courts are much more likely to award punitive damages against driver B.

Frequently Asked Questions About Punitive Damages 

The following FAQ is based on common questions that Missouri accident victims ask of attorneys.

1Is there a cap on punitive damages in Missouri?

Yes, punitive damages are capped at the greater of $500,000 or five times the judgment amount.

2Do the courts always award punitive damages?

Punitive damages are not always awarded by the courts in Missouri. The more flagrant the negligence was, the more likely the courts will be to award damages.

3How do the courts determine punitive damages?

The courts use factors like the defendant’s history and their behavior leading up to the accident to determine punitive damages. The dollar amount is usually based partially on the ability of the defendant to pay it back over time, but cannot exceed the state’s caps.

4Can my attorney negotiate with the insurance company for punitive damages?

During the negotiations, your attorney will be focused on getting you compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. There are times when car accident attorneys, recognizing that punitive damages are likely to be awarded, will ask for additional compensation.

5What should I do if I’m in a car accident with a reckless driver?

As with any car accident, your safety is first. Make sure you allow the EMTs to examine you and accept medical treatment if required. Document the scene with photographs and videos from a safe vantage point. Contact a St. Louis car accident attorney before considering any offer from an insurance company.

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