When you’re seriously injured — or a loved one is killed — in an auto accident caused by someone’s negligence or recklessness, the legal system allows you to pursue restorative justice. What that means may vary depending on the specific facts of the crash. Was the at-fault driver merely negligent or was extreme recklessness involved? Are you entitled to seek punitive damages or simply pursue compensation for your economic and non-economic harm? If punitive damages are a potential option, should you ask for them or forego this claim? For answers to these and other essential questions, seek out advice from an experienced Oregon auto accident lawyer.
These questions (and their answers) are more relevant than ever as, in many parts of our post-COVID world, road-related injuries and deaths have shot up from the levels seen during the 2010s. In Nevada, for example, 385 people died in road-related injuries in 2021, a 15-year high, according to the New York Times. 2022 was nearly as deadly, with 382 fatal injuries.
According to the Times report, a surgery professor in Las Vegas knows why. Based on the data the professor reviewed, “drivers were speeding more, on highways and on surface streets, and plowing through intersections with an alarming frequency.” On top of that, fewer people were using seat belts and more people were driving while intoxicated.
The same trend is happening nationwide. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s data showed that crashes skyrocketed by 16% from 2020 to 2021. Nearly 43,000 people died, the most in a decade and a half. “Of those deaths, a sizable portion involved intoxicated or unrestrained drivers or vehicles traveling well over local speed limits,” according to the Times report.
Analysts have looked at drivers’ state of mind as a major factor in these shifts. An American Psychological Association report showed respondents dealing with a substantial uptick in stress and anxiety. A 2022 report from Australia stated that almost 4/5 of all respondents reported an increase in nonviolent road rage (shouting, swearing, or rude gestures), and more than 1/3 reported a rise “in incidents in which one driver attempts to cause ‘actual damage’ to another vehicle.”
Dangerous Driving and the Law of ‘Extreme Recklessness’
Even in our stressed-out world, the rules of the road — and the law — still demand that drivers keep their feelings in check behind the wheel. Drivers are required to see what reasonably should be seen and maintain reasonable control over their vehicles at all times, whether they’re stressed, depressed, anxious, angry, or perfectly happy.
After the crash that injured you, you’ll have the option of resolving your case via a civil judgment or a settlement. If you undertake a lawsuit and prove that the at-fault engaged in extreme recklessness, you may be able to obtain punitive damages in addition to compensation for your economic and non-economic losses.
Extreme recklessness means that the driver drove with “willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Put into practical terms, driving 45 mph in a 40 mph zone and rear-ending a vehicle after failing to appreciate their rate of deceleration is probably negligence. Rear-ending a vehicle while driving intoxicated with a BAC of .205 is more likely to constitute extreme recklessness.
There are potential drawbacks to seeking punitive damages. For one thing, almost all plaintiffs who receive punitive damages will end up getting only 30% of the amount awarded. (The other 70% goes to the state Attorney General.) Additionally, insurance companies generally are not responsible for paying punitive damages awards, meaning that if the reckless driver was someone of little wealth, your punitive damages award could be largely uncollectable. There may be situations where punitive damages are potentially available but it makes more sense (in your specific circumstance) to forego seeking them. A knowledgeable legal advisor can help you make the best choice here.
Whether you’re dealing with insurance companies or navigating the civil court system (or both,) having an effective and experienced advocate is vital. The knowledgeable Oregon auto accident attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC are here to go over the options you have, and then help you decide which choice makes the most sense given your situation. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.