Improving highway safety is a constant effort for states, and a variety of programs and strategies are employed for this purpose. Here in Colorado, the most recent effort to improve highway safety is the "Moving Towards Zero Deaths" campaign recently initiated by Governor John Hickenlooper.
As with others like it, the campaign aims to raise public awareness of distracted driving and driving while impaired, which are two of the most significant causes of highway accidents nationwide. Public awareness campaigns like this one, to be sure, can play an important role in building positive social pressure to engage in safer driving behaviors, but they are not the only way to improve highway safety. Stricter criminal laws and civil litigation also play an important role.
Civil litigation, unlike criminal prosecution, is aimed at primarily at compensating the accident victim. In cases of drunk driving and distracted driving, though, civil litigation can result not only in compensation to the victim for both economic and non-economic losses, but in some cases also in punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages have the purpose of punishing the offender in a civil context and deterring others from engaging in the same behavior.
Punitive damages are not automatic, though, and are only available in certain circumstances. Because of this, motor vehicle accident victims cannot count on them. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of when one may seek them out in civil litigation and how to go about building a strong case in favor of punitive damages.
In our next post, we'll continue with this topic.