Malicious Conduct and Punitive Damages Awards in Your California Injury Case

Most of the time, your personal injury lawsuit will assert that the defendant was “negligent” As the term implies, the defendant’s liability comes from having neglectfully done something they shouldn’t have, or neglectfully failing to do something they should have. Sometimes, though, a defendant’s misconduct is more nefarious. They may do something so bad that the law considers it to be “despicable.” When that happens, the proof you give the court may entitle you to an even greater sum of damages. To make sure you’re getting everything you deserve from your injury case, be sure you’ve obtained representation from an experienced San Mateo injury attorney.

A terrible pedestrian accident case from Southern California, reported by KTLA, is an example. Y.C., a graduate student at Pepperdine University, intended to shop with her mother at a supermarket, but they never made it to the store. As they crossed in a Calabasas crosswalk, a truck crashed into them. The vehicle ran over Y.C.’s leg and the mother’s body. While Y.C. suffered serious harm, the mother’s injuries were fatal.

What happened next was where the case became unusual. The driver of the pickup stopped, exited the vehicle, drug the mother’s body toward the curb, got back into her truck, drove a short distance, parked along an adjacent road, then returned on foot. When the California Highway Patrol arrived, the driver told the officers that she simply encountered the fallen women as she drove to the supermarket, and was not involved in the accident, according to the report.

KTLA also reported that the police eventually realized the driver’s statements were false and charged her with manslaughter. She received a one-year jail sentence.

Something ‘looked down on and despised by reasonable people’

The daughter sued on behalf of herself and her mother. As part of the daughter’s case, she asserted that the driver acted with “malice.” In California, malice means intentional causing an injury or acting in a way that was “despicable and was done with a willful and knowing disregard of the rights or safety of another.” California also defines “despicable” to mean action that is “so vile, base, or contemptible that it would be looked down on and despised by reasonable people.”

The pedestrian’s lawsuit presented an example of the latter. According to the pedestrian’s attorney, the driver drug Y.C.’s fatally injured mother out of the road “like a dead animal,” leaving “an image she can’t get out of her brain.” The driver then left, parked and returned, feigning as if she was just a concerned citizen who stumbled upon the injured women… and telling the CHP a false story to that effect.

This, according to the jury, was despicable enough to warrant a finding of malice. That kind of finding from a jury (or a judge in a bench trial) can be very important. A finding of malice opens the door for the court to award you punitive damages, which can substantially increase the total overall award you receive. In this case, the total award the pedestrian received was $18 million.

Most of the time, your pedestrian accident case involves a driver who made a blunder – an error of judgment, an error of attentiveness or otherwise. Sometimes, though, the at-fault party’s conduct in your situation is far worse than a mere blunder. Whether your case involved misconduct that was merely negligent – or something worse – you need the right legal team to make sure your outcome delivers what you deserve. Talk to the knowledgeable San Mateo injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos. Our attorneys have many years of trial experience, helping the injured to use the legal system effectively and successfully. To set up a free consultation with one of our skilled attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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