By: Matthew Tievsky
In personal injury cases, there are two types of awards ("damages")
that a plaintiff can win at trial. The first is
compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the plaintiff for all of the harms and
losses he/she suffered, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and
suffering. The second, less common form of damages, is
punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant.
In Maryland, punitive damages are very hard to win: They can only be awarded
when compensatory damages are awarded, and even then only if the defendant
intentionally harmed the plaintiff. Punitive damages generally are not awarded or even
allowed in automobile collision cases, because they are generally deemed
to be accidents, not intentional acts of violence.
However, a noteworthy and recent case from the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals did allow the jury to award punitive damages. In the case of
Holloway-Johnson v. Beall, a police officer's cruiser drove into the back of a motorcyclist,
knocking him to the ground and killing him. The Court of Special Appeals
held that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that
the act was intentional, where the police officer testified that he had
been pursuing the motorcyclist for a driving violation; where the officer
admitted that he knew he was driving faster than and catching up to the
motorcyclist; where the officer failed to call for medical attention after
the collision; and where the officer lied, after the fact, to the police
dispatcher, and claimed that the motorcyclist simply fell off his motorcycle.
As a result of
Holloway-Johnson, it now appears that where a driver who causes the collision conducts
himself in such a manner as to indicate total disregard for the plaintiff,
that driver may be held to have
intentionally hurt the plaintiff. In that sort of case, the plaintiff could potentially
win punitive damages on top of compensatory damages.
If you have questions about an
automobile collision that you were in, and the sort of damages that may be awarded to you,
you should contact the personal injury attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman,
Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.