Are Punitive Damages Available for Injury Claims in Washington?
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Are Punitive Damages Available for Injury Claims in Washington?

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Posted on October 13, 2022

The only thing worse than experiencing a painful or debilitating injury is experiencing one that was entirely preventable if it weren’t for the negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct of another individual. Whether the injury resulted from a careless driver disregarding traffic laws or from a hotel owner’s failure to repair a faulty stair riser, when an injury has a negative impact on your life, you want the at-fault party to fully understand the depth of the deep wrong they committed and the consequences you’ve suffered. Not only do victims want full compensation for their medical expenses and lost wages, but they might also wish to punish the person who caused their accident through a monetary judgment against them, not for pointless revenge, but to deter that person from acting recklessly or negligently in the future. 

While many states in the U.S. allow personal injury victims to make claims for financial penalties, Washington doesn’t allow punitive damage claims. Instead, accident victims may only file claims for compensatory damages. It’s important to understand the two different types of compensatory damages available in Washington.

Understanding the Two Types of Compensatory Damages

A serious injury has a long-lasting impact on the accident victim’s life and livelihood. Both economic and non-economic damages make it difficult to recover and move forward, often causing further harm financially and emotionally. Fortunately, personal injury victims can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic losses.

Economic losses available in Washington personal injury cases include:

  • Medical expenses and future medical expenses for ongoing treatments
  • Lost wages and future lost wages
  • Property damage

Personal injury victims can also file claims against the at-fault party for the following non-economic losses:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability or impairment
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of life (due to diminished ability to engage in activities and relationships in the same manner enjoyed before the injury)

While it’s easy to calculate economic losses through documentation from medical bills, medical records, pay stubs, and W2 forms, it’s more challenging to calculate non-economic damages. If a claim becomes a lawsuit in court, it’s up to jury members to use their own experiences, common sense, and empathy to determine an amount of compensation for intangible damages like suffering, pain, and loss of quality of life.

While punitive damages are meant as punishment and a deterrent to the at-fault party, compensatory damages aim to restore a personal injury victim to wholeness or to minimize the negative impacts of the injury on the victim’s life.

Are There Exceptions To Washington’s No-Punitive Damages Rule?

Washington State determined that punitive damage awards are not conducive to good public policy. Many states that do allow these types of damage claims take part of the award for the state itself and channel it into various state funds. They may also cap the maximum allowable amount of punitive damage awards. 

While uncommon, Washington courts do allow punitive damages in a few limited circumstances including when the specific state statute allows these types of damages or when a multi-state entity bears the responsibility for the accident and has a base in a state that does allow punitive damage claims.

An experienced personal injury lawyer in Kent can evaluate your own unique personal injury case and determine what types of damages are available for your case.