In 2011, the most recent year with reported statistics, there were an average of 1.4 motor vehicle accidents every hour across the state, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation. Due to such wrecks, drivers, passengers and others may suffer serious injuries that require medical attention. For many, this leads to undue medical bills and lost wages while they are off of work healing.
In some cases, those injured may choose to take legal action to obtain recompense for the damages they have suffered. This may include seeking compensation for their economic and non-economic damages, as well as for punitive damages.
Auto collisions may cause a range of monetary damages, some of which are objectively verifiable. This may include the costs of repairing the damage to the vehicles involved, the costs of the past and future medical expenses associated with any resulting injuries, and the loss of past and future income due to being off of work to recover from any resulting injuries. Through a personal injury claim, people may seek to be reimbursed and compensated for these types of losses.
As a result of motor vehicle accidents, people may suffer losses that are not monetary. Depending on the circumstances, they may have a right to receive compensation for these types of non-economic damages. However, Alaska state law specifies that this type of recovery is limited to disfigurement, physical impairment, loss of enjoyment, pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of consortium and other nonpecuniary damages. For the purposes of noneconomic damages, multiple injuries suffered by a single person are treated as a single injury.
When a person is ordered to pay damages as a punishment or to deter similar behavior in others, they are called punitive damages. In Alaska, the question of whether punitive damages shall be allowed is decided by the fact finder as part of the initial trial. The plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s behavior was either:
- Outrageous, which may be shown by “malice or bad motives,” or
- Recklessly indifferent
If punitive damages are appropriate, the court must hold a separate proceeding to determine the amount, in which it may weigh seven factors:
- The likelihood that the defendant’s actions would cause serious harm
- The level of the defendant’s awareness of the likelihood of serious harm
- The defendant’s financial gain
- The duration of the defendant’s conduct and whether he or she intentionally concealed it
- The defendant’s attitude and behavior after the conduct was discovered
- The defendant’s financial condition
- The deterrent impact of “other damages and punishment imposed on the defendant”; damage awards to similar victims; and the severity of potential criminal penalties imposed on the defendant
Alaska imposes caps on punitive damages depending on the situation. In a car accident, the cap would normally be the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. Then, a so-called split-recovery law requires that half of the punitive damages award must be given to the state of Alaska for the general fund.
Consulting with a legal representative
After being involved in a motor vehicle collision, people in Alaska may experience a range of challenges. Mounting medical bills and lost income may make an already difficult time more trying, and affect their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Therefore, those who have experienced such situations may benefit from discussing their situation with an attorney. A lawyer may help them understand their options for seeking financial justice, as well as guide them through the legal process.