Double or Treble Damages
In an automobile collision case, you must establish that the person whose car collided with yours was negligent in operating his vehicle, and that this negligence caused the collision. Then you must provide that the collision caused your injuries. But once you have proven all of that, how does the court calculate the amount of money to award to compensate you for your injuries?
First, we must always remember that any award for injuries in a car collision case or any negligence case is in fact compensation for injuries. We do not award money to people just so they can say make money. The idea of awarding money is to provide some compensation to a person who has been injured through someone else’s negligence. Some people ask why do we award money. In fact, money is the common nexus of our society. We wouldn’t want to do something like force someone to do work because for the injured party. The court’s would call that a servitude, and it would be something akin to slavery. Since our society values freedom of the individual above all else, we prefer to make them pay money for any injury that they have caused.
But the question still remains, how do we value how much a person deserves for any particular type of injury. The answer is that we leave these questions up to a jury to decide what constitutes a fair and reasonable amount. Juries are allowed to compensate a plaintiff for lost wages, past medical expenses and future medical expenses. These amounts will be clearly defined by evidence of medical bills and payroll records. However, pain and suffering are not clearly defined. A jury simply puts their heads together to come to an agreement about the amount that they think is fair and reasonable based on the evidence that they have heard. Of course the jury pool is composed of a diverse group of people. Two different juries who hear the same case might come back with wildly different ideas of what constitutes a reasonable amount of compensation in a case.
Nevertheless, a lawyer must try to educate the jury as much as he can about how much a particular injury has meant to his client to get the jury to come back with the highest award he can for his client. One of the things an attorney can do is to ask for punitive damages or even double or triple damages if the facts warrant such a claim. Punitive damages differ from double or treble damages. punitive damages. Punitive damages or double or treble damages are awarded only in those cases where the behavior has been determined to be the kind which our society finds so offensive, that we place further damages as a deterrent of such bad behavior.
Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages and are only available where the action of the defendant are willful, wanton or malicious. "A wilful and malicious injury is one inflicted intentionally without just cause or excuse. It does not necessarily involve the ill will or malevolence shown in express malice. Nor is it sufficient to constitute such an injury that the act resulting in the injury was intentional in the sense that it was the voluntary action of the person involved. Not only the action producing the injury but the resulting injury must be intentional." Markey v. Santangelo 195 Conn. 76, 77 (1985). Therefore the driver of the automobile must do something more than just normal negligence to cause the injury. Simply failing to keep a safe distance between automobiles or failing to observe a stop sign would not be sufficient. Rather the defendant must have willfully done something to justify punitive damages. For instance, if the defendant deliberately drove his automobile into someone else’s automobile, that would be willful.
The damages awarded for punitive damages consist of actual cost of the litigation including attorneys fees over and above what would normally be awarded to a prevailing party.
Punitive damages were derived as part of our common law which is the law that is made by the courts. Alternatively, double and treble damages are available because the Connecticut Legislature has enacted them into law pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes 14-295 and 14-222. CGS 15-295 allows a jury to award double or treble damages whenever a defendant is found to have violated CGS 14-222. CGS 14-222 simply says that no person shall operate a motor vehicle on any public highway “ recklessly, having regard to the width, traffic and use of such highway, road, school property or parking area, the intersection of streets and the weather conditions.” Recklessly has been defined as “A state of consciousness with reference to the consequences of one’s actions….it is more than negligence, more than gross negligence…. It is such conduct which indicates a reckless disregard of the rights or safety of others or of the consequences of the action. Matthiessen v. Vanech, 266 Conn. 822 ( 2003). In this case, the defendant pulled up behind a car that was stopped at a stop sign, and pulled around the car in front of her and crossed onto the adjoining road and struck a car that would have had the right of way. Even if a jury awards double or treble damages, the court must agree that the total amount is reasonable, or the court may reduce the award.
A claim for double or treble damages must be specifically pleaded in the plaintiff’s complaint, or it is not available. The purpose of this rule is to put the defendant on notice of the claims against him or her. Defense counsel work very hard to try to find reasons why a claim for punitive damages or for double or treble damages should be stricken from the complaint. If they can find any reason to have it stricken, they will. If you want to make a claim for double or treble damages, you will need the assistance of an experienced attorney to make sure that the claim sticks.