John Maher sits down with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan from the law firm Mazow McCullough. They talk about damages in auto accident cases, and they explain the difference between compensatory and punitive damages. Then, they look at how these damages are assessed in lawsuits related to auto accidents.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. And I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Robert Hartigan of the law firm, Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Today, we’re going to be talking about damages in auto accident cases. Rob and Robert, welcome.
Rob Mazow: Thanks John.
Robert Hartigan: Hi, John.
Damages in Auto Accident Lawsuits
John: So what types of damages can be awarded in a car accident?
Rob: In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, you’re entitled to be made whole. So what does that mean? That means that you, if you’re injured or damaged in some way, then the person that’s responsible for your damages must make you whole.
And in order to prove that you’ve been damaged, in order to prove what you need to prove in order to remain whole, you need to actually show specific, not speculative damages. For instance, medical bills, scarring, pain and suffering and lost wages. Those are what you would be compensated for in order to be made whole. Those are the kind of damages we’re discussing.
What Are Compensatory Damages?
John: So I’ve heard of compensatory damages. Can you talk about that a little bit and what those are specifically?
Rob: And that’s exactly what I’m referring to. Compensatory damages are actual damage that you can point your finger to. That’s something that’s not speculative. It’s not some made up thing. It’s something that you can point to and say,”Here’s my loss. I couldn’t work for one year. I earned $50,000 a year. I want to be compensated for that $50,000 per year loss because you caused me those damage.”
That’s a compensatory damage. “Here’s the scar on my face that your dog caused me.” I can point to that. That is a compensatory damage that I want to be made whole. Now, obviously, you can’t take the scar from my face, so we have to put a number on that. What is that worth? That’s a compensatory damage that you owe me for causing that issue to my face.
Medical bills. Here’s the medical bills that my surgery costs. Here’s the $25,000 of medical bills. You caused me that surgery. You owe me $25,000 in compensatory damages. Those are the damages we’re talking about. We’re talking about compensatory.
What Are Punitive Damages?
John: Okay. And then what are punitive damages and how are those different?
Robert: So in Massachusetts, in wrongful death cases, if the court determines that the defendant or the defendant’s conduct, they were grossly negligent, they were reckless. And then the court can award punitive damages, which are damages that a jury comes back with to punish the defendants for their conduct. In a typical car accident where, let’s say, there’s a soft tissue injury, there is no claim and there cannot be a claim for punitive damages.
Rob: It’s very rare in Massachusetts for a court to allow a jury to consider awarding punitive damages because, as Robert said, it’s to punish the defendant. So in a regular negligence case, the defendant’s not going to be punished for their actions. They’re just required to make the plaintiff whole. When we’re talking about a punishment, you’re sending a message to the defendant that what they did was so beyond negligent. It rose to the level of recklessness or gross negligence that they need to be punished. And it’s a very, very high hurdle that it’s very rare to see in Massachusetts, a court allowing those kinds of damages to come in.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?
John: Can you think of some of the reasons why punitive damages might be awarded?
Robert: Sure. Let’s say, we have a company that hires a truck driver, and the truck driver has a long history of drunk driving and they’ve lost their license and they’re not supposed to be on the road. And the company turns a blind eye to that or in fact says, “We don’t care. Come aboard and go drive this 18-wheeler with your 10 OUIs and your bad license.” And then they go out, and they kill somebody.
In that case, a court is probably going to allow a discussion about punitive damages because they need to punish the company for putting this person on the road. Now take those same set of facts, but take away the fact that the truck driver had a long history of drunk driving, and they just were negligent. They were driving 90 miles an hour in a 60-mile-an-hour zone. Not because they were under the influence, but because they were being inattentive or something. Of course, less likely. And the same damages or cause of death to somebody, the court is less likely to give punitive damages award and something like that.
Punitive Damages in Drunk Driving Cases
John: So even in just the case of a regular sort of a drunk driving case, you wouldn’t usually see punitive damages being awarded?
Robert: Drunk driving with a wrongful death. You need to have the wrongful death part. With a drunk driving case that causes something less than wrongful death, you’re never going to see punitive damages because it’s not allowed. You need to have the death plus some history of drunk driving or some other grossly negligent act on the part of the driver or the company.
Contact Mazow McCullough After an Auto Accident
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Rob and Robert. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thanks John.
Robert: Thanks, John.
John: And for more information, you can visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.