What Are Punitive Damages in New York?| O’Connor and Partners

If you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, you may want to see that the at-fault party is punished for forever altering your life. You may want to receive as much money for the accident as possible and you may feel that “compensation” is not truly enough to allow you to move on. As a result, you might be wondering whether you can file a claim for punitive damages. In New York, the answer is, “Maybe.”

The experienced car accident attorneys at O’Connor & Partners, PLLC have extensive experience in a wide range of personal injury matters, including car accidents. If you’ve been hurt because of another’s negligence, we can explain your rights and legal options, and help you pursue the justice and compensation you deserve.

Punitive Damages are Available in Some Cases

Under New York law, there are different standards for establishing liability after a car accident. In most cases, claims for compensation are based on “negligence.” All drivers owe a duty of care on New York’s public roads; and, if a driver breaches this duty of care (i.e. by speeding or running a stop sign), then the driver can be held liable for his or her mistake. 

There is also a standard known as “strict liability” that applies when a car accident results from a vehicle defect. Under New York’s strict liability standard, proof of negligence is not required. If a company sells a defective vehicle or component, and if the defect leads to an accident or accident-related injuries (i.e. in the case of a defective seatbelt or airbag), then the company can be held fully liable regardless of whether it was negligent in putting a dangerous vehicle on the road. 

Then, there is the standard for seeking punitive damages. In New York, in order to file a claim for punitive damages, you must be able to prove that the at-fault party engaged in “extreme, egregious, or immoral conduct” that warrants punishment. This goes beyond ordinary negligence—which means that punitive damages are not available in all car accident cases. 

Examples of Conduct that Can Justify an Award of Punitive Damages 

So, when does conduct rise to the level of being considered “extreme, egregious, or immoral”? While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules, the following are all examples of circumstances in which punitive damages may be available: 

  • Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol – Due to the well-known dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, drunk driving accidents can justify claims for punitive damages in many cases. If you were injured or a loved one was killed in a drunk driving accident, you should speak with a lawyer about filing a claim promptly. 
  • Driving Under the Influence of Drugs – Driving high on marijuana or under the influence of other drugs is treated similarly to driving under the influence of alcohol. This means that punitive damages may be available in these cases as well. 
  • Speeding Excessively or Street Racing – Driving at extremely excessive speeds creates extreme risks for everyone on the road. The same goes for street racing, when drivers put their own entertainment before other motorists’ safety. 
  • Knowingly Selling Defective Vehicles or Vehicle Components – When companies knowingly sell dangerous and defective products, juries will often hold them accountable by awarding punitive damages. 

Whether punitive damages are available in any particular case will depend on the specific circumstances involved. While these are some of the most-common types of cases in which accident victims can seek punitive damages, these are not the only cases in which these damages may be on the table. In order to find out whether you may be able to seek punitive damages for your car accident, you will need to speak with an attorney who is experienced in helping accident victims in a broad range of scenarios. 

What to Do if You Want to Seek Punitive Damages for a Car Accident

If you want to seek punitive damages for a car accident, there are some important factors to consider, and there are some important steps you should take promptly. These include: 

  • File an Insurance Claim – You should file an auto insurance claim as you normally would. You don’t need to say (and probably shouldn’t say) anything about seeking punitive damages. Instead, simply report the accident to start the process. 
  • Take Care of Yourself – In order to seek punitive damages, you will need to preserve your legal rights. This means that you should take care of yourself, and you should avoid mistakes that could make your claim more difficult to pursue. 
  • Contact a Lawyer – Seeking punitive damages for a car accident requires experienced legal representation—you won’t be able to collect punitive damages on your own. As a result, it is especially important that you speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. 

Talk to a Kingston Car Accident Lawyer for Free

Do you have questions about seeking punitive damages for a car accident in New York? If so, contact O’Connor & Partners, PLLC for a free, no-obligation consultation. Call 845-303-8777 or send us your contact information online to speak with a Kingston car accident lawyer today.

by O'Connor & Partners, PLLC
Last updated on - Originally published on

Posted in: Car Accidents