Can You Get Punitive Damages in a Maryland Hit and Run Accident?

Recently, a fatal Maryland hit and run accident made headlines, reported by multiple news outlets including CBS Baltimore. According to CBS Baltimore, the crash happened around 3 PM one Thursday afternoon late last month. Maryland State Police said that a 49-year-old Baltimore woman was heading west on Route 50 near Nesbit Road when she tried to pass a box truck by using the left shoulder of the road. Unfortunately, she hit the box truck while trying to return to the road and then lost control of her vehicle. Her car went down an embankment, where it hit multiple trees before finally stopping. But the driver of the box truck did not stay on the scene, making this a hit-and-run crash, so named because one driver hit another (whether or not they were at fault) and then fled the scene. When officials responded to the scene, they transported the woman to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Hit-and-run accidents are infuriating for many Maryland drivers, particularly those who lose a loved one as a result. In fact, a hit-and-run is actually a crime in the Maryland criminal code. Because it is punishable through criminal law, many Maryland hit-and-run accident victims wonder if they can receive punitive damages—damages designed to punish the defendant—through a civil lawsuit against a driver who hit and ran. The answer, usually, is no.

Civil lawsuits, as opposed to criminal suits, are not meant to punish the defendant who caused harm. Instead, they are meant to make a plaintiff who suffered harm whole, and so typically the defendant is ordered to pay them monetary damages to put them back in as close to the same position as they would have been if the car accident had not happened. These damages typically cover medical expenses, both past and future, as well as lost wages, incidental costs, and pain and suffering. In a wrongful death action, they might also cover funeral and burial costs.

While these damages do not undo the damage caused, they do attempt to compensate the plaintiff fairly for damage incurred. Because this is the focus of civil lawsuits, punitive damages (which punish the defendant) are rarely awarded. In fact, to receive punitive damages, a plaintiff must show that a defendant acted with actual malice. Proving negligence—or even recklessness—is not enough to show actual malice, which usually requires showing that the defendant had ill will, an evil motive, an actual desire to cause bodily harm. Even in hit-and-run cases like the ones described above, this is a hard showing to make, and a plaintiff is rarely awarded punitive damages.

Do You Have Questions About Filing a Maryland Civil Lawsuit?

If you’ve recently been injured in any type of Maryland car accident and have questions about how to recover monetarily from the person who harmed you, call the accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers today. Our attorneys have worked for many Maryland clients to help them get the compensation they deserve and will work tirelessly on your behalf as well. Call now at 800-654-1949.

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