Suing for Punitive Damages in Arizona
People call us every week asking if they can sue for punitive damages. In fact, collecting on punitive damages is actually rare in Arizona. As Arizona trial lawyers, we have an uphill battle to even be allowed by the Judge to ask the jury for punitive damages. A study recently conducted across the country said that only 5% of trials resulted in verdicts that included punitive damages. So, how does an Arizona resident who has been seriously injured by the negligent conduct of another individual obtain punitive damages against the negligent party?
First, in almost every case it takes an experienced Arizona personal injury lawyer to assist a client to obtain punitive damages. Punitive damages are only allowed in very rare cases. Only experienced attorneys in serious injury and wrongful death law in Arizona will know the necessary arguments that need to be made to the Judge regarding punitive damages. Why is it that punitive damages in Arizona Courts are very rare? It is because in an automobile accident, punitive damages require proving that the negligent party "intentionally" caused the accident. At a minimum, the lawyer must prove that the negligent party has a "deliberate indifference" when causing the accident. In short, the Arizona Supreme Court has written through case law that punitive damages are only appropriate when the defendant's conduct was such that it was guided by an "evil hand and evil mind." It is a heightened standard unlike proving other damages.
Now, simply putting profits over the well-being of the public can meet the "deliberate indifference" prerequisite required by the Arizona Supreme Court for proving that a party is entitled to punitive damages. Drunk driving accidents in Arizona many times lead to punitive damages. It is not enough to just allege punitive damages. The AZ punitive damages attorney has to prove that punitive damages are appropriate and it has to be shown more than just a preponderance of the evidence.
What is most devastating to Arizona personal injury cases is when a client does have a punitive claim, but their lawyer fails to assert this claim in court. If as a lawyer, you fail to allege that you are seeking punitive damages, you may be forever barred from even requesting these damages be a part of your client's claim. For this reason, it is very important that those who have been involved in a serious accident and think they may have a punitive damage claim hire an experienced attorney that knows the arguments necessary to fight for punitive damages. The Judge allowing punitive damages can be the difference between an unjust verdict and a verdict that tells the public that the negligent party was engaging in bad conduct at the time of the accident. Moreover, a verdict of punitive damages is more likely to deter future bad behavior, which is what we as lawyers are trying to seek every day. It's not always just about getting a settlement; but about preventing future bad behavior and protecting the lives of innocent people.
As attorneys who focus our practice solely in injury and wrongful death law in Arizona, we are happy to answer any questions you may have. We have handled many cases that have included punitive damages. Many of our cases have involved drunk drivers or truck drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel because they worked beyond their designated hours. We just settled a case for a confidential amount because we were able to prove that the Defendant truck driver worked over the amount of the federal regulated hours and fell asleep at the wheel.
Our client was on a visit in Arizona for a vacation when the truck driver fell asleep and the cab of the truck landed on top of our client's vehicle. Trucking accidents require even more experience because the lawyer needs to know how to obtain the information to show that punitive damages are warranted in the case. In most situations, the truck drivers never admit they worked over hours or fell asleep at the wheel; it is something that has to be proven through witness statements, documents from the trucking employer, the black box of the truck, employment files, among many other documents and consultations with experts. When we determine that a case is worthy of punitive damage consideration, we begin to gather evidence and documentation immediately to show and convince the Judge that the Defendant was in fact guided by an "evil mind and evil hand."
One more thing, if you do have a potential punitive damage claim, it is important to act fast, as the documentation used to show punitive damages is warranted is often destroyed. Think about it: if you are guided by an "evil mind, evil hand" when you cause a serious accident, you are more likely to destroy evidence that may help save you money that you would be required to pay under the law.
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Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer