Car Accidents, How to Be a Good Plaintiff, Motorcycle Accidents, Truck Accidents
Punitive Damages: A conflict in legal traditions
NEW ORLEANS, LA — When the person who injured you was engaged in actions that society finds particularly egregious, a court may order that the liable party must pay you punitive damages in addition to traditional damages such as compensation for medical bills or pain and suffering. Punitive damages have a well-established history in British common law, and therefore are common in many American states.
However, Louisiana law is largely built on French jurisprudence, with origins in Roman law, and does not generally recognize punishment or revenge as appropriate in civil cases. At the same time, due to the growing Anglo-American influence with its heritage of British common law, punitive damages began to be discussed in 19th Century Louisiana. Lively debate ensued both in court and out, with Justice C.J. Slidell referring to the esteemed French jurisconsult Charles Toullier’s writing, “Si la faute qui pauvait causer du dommage n’en a point causé, la loi n’inflige aucune peine, à moins qu’une défense de commettre l’action n’eût été portée sous une peine déterminée; car alors a peine dérive d’une desobéissance, d’une contravention à la loi.” Considering Louisiana’s Civil Code in an 1855 case, Slidell opined that the discretion allowed to a court or jury to rule on certain elements of damages “by no means involves the idea that in the assessment of damages, the court or jury can travel beyond the enquiry how far the sufferer himself is affected, or exaggerate the amount for the purpose of vindicating offended public justice, or punishing the offender as an example to others.” Black v. Carrollton R. Co., 10 La. Ann. 33, 45 (1855).
Today, as a result of this tension between the Anglo and Franco-Roman traditions, Louisiana law does allow punitive damages, but only in circumstances specifically described by statute. Of these, there are very few, but the circumstance most relevant to the average plaintiff is the statute allowing for punitive damages to be assessed in a civil proceeding against a motorist who was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs when an accident occurred. Article 2315.4 of the Louisiana Civil Code states“In addition to general and special damages, exemplary damages may be awarded upon proof that the injuries on which the action is based were caused by a wanton or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others by a defendant whose intoxication while operating a motor vehicle was a cause in fact of the resulting injuries.”
To complicate matters, even if a Louisiana court has the ability to award punitive damages after your accident with an intoxicated driver, some insurance companies exclude punitive damages from certain policies. It is critically important that you engage the services of an experienced attorney if you or a loved one has been injured by a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Further reading on punitive damages provides interesting information, spanning from the Code of Hammurabi to the Digest of 1808 and onward. To discuss punitive damages or any other aspect of your accident or case, call The de Boisblanc Law Firm today.
Car Accidents, How to Be a Good Plaintiff, Truck Accidents
Pre-Existing Conditions in Accident Victims
“In the real world, with all of its complications and imperfections, accident victims are often people who have already been hurt in some way”
NEW ORLEANS, LA — In the ideal personal injury claim, a victim is healthy before an accident, and only afterwards has clearly demonstrated accident-related injuries. But as we all know all too well, life is rarely ideal or clean-cut. In the real world, with all of its complications and imperfections, accident victims are often people who have already been hurt in some way. It’s important for the victim with pre-existing conditions to understand, first, how ordinary your circumstances actually are: you are not alone! The second thing you need to know, is what your rights are.
Take back injuries, for example. The spine and all of its connecting ligaments, nerves, and soft tissue is one of the easier regions of the body to injure during a motor vehicle accident. Each year approximately three million people are injured in motor vehicle accidents. At the same time, millions of Americans endure acute, degenerative, and chronic back injury and pain. This substantially increases the chances that an individual who endured a back injury in a collision, also suffers from a pre-existing back condition.
Research suggests that a full one-third of Americans between the ages of 40-59 years old suffer from degenerative disc disease. Women are more likely to suffer from this condition, at a rate of 40-70% higher instance of pathology than men of the same age.
Furthermore, up to 80% of Americans suffer, or have suffered, from low back pain. Of this number, 20% will commonly develop chronic low back pain.
Victims who have a pre-existing condition may be reluctant to come forward after someone else’s negligence has caused them further injury, or made their pre-existing condition feel worse. Big Insurance will discourage these fragile victims from pursuing their claims. However, victims need to know that the law is on their side. A victim’s pre-existing condition is NOT a defense for injuring him or her. In fact, the Eggshell Plaintiff Doctrine instructs us that we must “take a plaintiff as he comes,” meaning that a negligent person is responsible not only for any new injury they cause, but also for any aggravation to a pre-existing condition. This holds true even if you are severely injured from accident forces which wouldn’t cause as much harm to a healthy person. The law, in the interest of public policy, recognizes that certain individuals are more fragile, more easily injured, and that these people deserve just as much protection from negligent actions as healthy people. You are not to blame for your pre-existing condition!
If you have a pre-existing condition and you’ve recently been a victim of someone else’s negligence, it’s important to be up front with an experienced personal injury attorney regarding your medical history, so that this information can be properly presented to the negligent party and their insurance company. Your medical providers can then determine exactly how much your condition has worsened due to your accident. This will allow you to hold the negligent person responsible, so that you can recover for your medical costs, pain and suffering, and any other damages you may have suffered. At The de Boisblanc Law Firm, you can have a free consultation to discuss your accident as well as any pre-existing conditions you may have, jump starting your road to recovery.