Is Compensation for Car Accident Victims Limited in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma is a “fault” insurance state, which means that if you ever get hurt in a car accident, the driver who caused the crash or collision may be responsible for compensating you.  However, state laws restrict the amount of compensation that can be awarded to an injury victim, depending on what sort of harm or loss is being compensated.  If you were hit by another driver, you should contact our Oklahoma City crash accident lawyers about the compensation that may be available to you.

What Are the Different Types of Damages Awarded in a Civil Case?

In the context of personal injury law, the term “damages” describes a monetary award for a loss or harm (“tort”) suffered by the injury victim.  However, damages are divided into several categories, each of which serves its own distinct purpose.

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Let’s quickly go over the differences between the types of damages that can be awarded in a civil case, such as a case arising from a preventable truck accident in Oklahoma.  The victim may be awarded:

  • Compensatory Damages – Compensatory damages compensate the victim. This might sound like a redundant explanation at first, but it’s important to distinguish compensatory damages from punitive damages, described below.  Compensatory damages can include:
    • Economic Damages – Economic damages compensate quantifiable expenses and losses, such as the car accident victim’s medical bills or projected income losses while he or she recovers. Some states call economic damages “special damages.”
    • Non-Economic Damages – Non-economic damages compensate subjective hardships, such as the pain and suffering caused by a whiplash neck injury. Some states call non-economic damages “general damages.”
  • Punitive Damages – Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where evidence shows that the defendant engaged in “gross” (extreme) negligence. As the word “punitive” implies, punitive damages are more than just a means of compensating the victim: they are intended to punish the defendant.  Oklahoma courts consider, among other variables, the following factors when determining whether punitive damages are appropriate:
    • The severity of the hazard created by the at-fault driver.
    • The extent to which the at-fault driver was aware of danger he or she caused.
    • How the at-fault driver behaved once he or she became aware of the hazard.
    • How long the hazard lasted for.
    • Whether the at-fault driver made any attempt to hide their actions.

Oklahoma Damages Caps in Personal Injury Cases

The reason these distinctions are important for car crash victims is that different types of damages are subject to different limits, which are known as “damages caps.”  Under 23 O.S. § 61.2, the state of Oklahoma imposes the following damages caps:

  • Economic Damages – No caps are imposed. As provided by 23 O.S. § 61.2(a), “In any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which the trier of fact may award a plaintiff for economic loss shall not be subject to any limitation.”  This means there is no limit on the damages recoverable for financial losses, including hospital bills, lost wages, and other reasonable expenses associated with the injury – for example, lowering a home’s countertops because the victim was paralyzed by a spinal cord injury and now requires a wheelchair.
  • Non-Economic Damages – Non-economic damages are capped at $350,000 under 23 O.S. § 61.2(b), regardless of how many drivers or other parties the plaintiff is suing. However, the statute also provides a few exceptions to this rule.  There is no limit on non-economic damages in cases where the court finds the at-fault driver:
    • Acted with “reckless disregard for the rights of others.”
    • Acted with deliberate intent to inflict harm (“with malice”).
    • Committed gross negligence.
    • Committed an act of fraud.
  • Punitive Damages – When awarded, punitive damages are subject to one of several caps depending on the circumstances of the underlying accident. Punitive damages may be capped at:
    • $100,000 or the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater, in cases where the at-fault driver was reckless.
    • $500,000 or twice the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater, in cases where the at-fault driver acted with malice, or the insurer deliberately acted in bad faith. No cap is also a possibility under similar circumstances.

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If you’d like to see some actual, real-world examples of awards and settlements resulting from car accident injuries in Oklahoma, you may be interested in reading our articles on:

Contact an Oklahoma City Car Accident Lawyer of Hasbrook & Hasbrook for Help

If you or one your family members was injured in an auto accident in Oklahoma City, don’t battle the at-fault driver’s insurance company alone.  Turn to the knowledgeable and friendly personal injury lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook for help.  Our respected legal team has over 75 years of combined experience representing seriously injured accident victims throughout the Oklahoma City area.  To set up a free and confidential legal consultation with Hasbrook & Hasbrook, call our law offices at (405) 698-3040.  We don’t charge any fees unless we recover compensation for you.