Personal Injury Blog

Court of Special Appeals Makes it Easier to Win Punitive Damages in Automobile Collision Cases

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.Punitive Damages Auto Accident

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.