Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What, exactly, are punitive damages?

To understand punitive damages, let’s start with compensatory damages. Usually a jury will determine compensatory damages before they determine punitive damages. The purpose of compensatory damages is to reimburse up with the injured party in the position they would have been if they had not been injured. Compensatory damages may include reimbursement for property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and any other actual loss.

So what, exactly, are punitive damages? If the jury determines that a defendant’s conduct was way beyond negligence or simply recklessness and if jurors believe that evidence shows that the behavior was willful, wanton, or intentionally malicious, a judge may permit them to award punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are imposed both to punish the defendant for egregious, often near-criminal, actions and to deter the defendant, and others, from acting similarly in the future. Punitive damages are sometimes called exemplary damages. Their purpose being to make an example of the kind of conduct that will not be tolerated.

People injured through no fault of their own may receive punitive damages in cases of outrageous misconduct involving civil rights, employment, environmental damage, fraud, health care, insurance, intentional acts, nuisance, personal injury, premises liability, product liability, securities, sexual harassment, and workplace safety.

Many states and special interests want to limit or eliminate punitive damages in legal cases. Reckless, malicious, or irresponsible conduct would be rewarded, not punished. In Virginia, the politicians have Punitive damages at $350,000. The danger here is that some irresponsible corporations would consider $350,000 as simply a cost of doing business in some cases. I suspect there are corporations out there that would consider dumping nuclear waste in your backyard if they could do so for the mirror $350,000 punishment.

Auto Accident information to have before a personal injury occurs.

Virginia’s Bureau of Insurance has prepared this guide to help you understand insurance and get the coverage that best suits your needs in the event of an auto accident. You may need more insurance than you think and it will probably not cost you as much as you think it will. This guide explains basic auto insurance coverages to have before a personal injury happens and will help you decide how much insurance coverage you need.

Consumer’s Guide to Auto Insurance

Pedestrian Safety at Railroad Crossings
  • Use only designated pedestrian or roadway crossings to cross tracks and obey all crossing warning signals.
  • Never race a train. It can take a mile or more to stop a train, so a locomotive engineer who suddenly spots you ahead has little chance to miss you.
  • Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions and loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. The train may hit you if you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks.
  • The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate.
  • Do not cross the tracks immediately after a train passes. A second train might be blocked by the first. Trains can come from either direction. Wait until you can see clearly around the first train in both directions.
  • Flashing red lights signal that a train is approaching from either direction. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing. Do not cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it is safe to do so.
  • Do not use railroad trestles for hunting, fishing or bungee jumping because there is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass.
  • Be aware that trains do not follow set schedules so a train could come at any time.
  • Do not walk, run, cycle or operate all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks, railroad rights-of-way or through tunnels.
  • Never walk down a train track; it’s illegal and it’s dangerous. By the time a locomotive engineer can see a trespasser or a vehicle on the tracks, it is too late. The train cannot stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.
Motor Vehicle Safety at Railroad Crossings
  • In the United States there are more than 250,000 highway-rail grade crossings. With as many as 96% of train accidents and injuries occurring at highway rail crossings, drivers, pedestrians and the railroad industry all benefit from steps that produce increased safety on and around crossings. These tips may help you prevent a train accident and the catastrophic injuries that often result from them. They may also help you determine a potential means of recovery if you or someone you know has been hurt or killed in a railroad/roadway crossing accident.
  • The majority of accidents at crossings are vehicle/train collisions. Safety experts recommend the following steps to prevent vehicle related injuries at railroad crossings.
  • Expect a train at any time on any track. Be certain you can stop safely if a train is approaching.
  • Do not rely on train whistles or horns to warn you. In-cab noise may mask the train’s warning.
  • Do not attempt to cross the tracks unless you are certain the vehicle you are driving will clear on the other side. Never shift gears while crossing railroad tracks. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • Be cautious of obstructions like vegetation or buildings that may block the view of an approaching train.
  • Be alert to weather and how it affects conditions at the crossings. Snow and fog can all effect crossing safety.
  • Look up and down the tracks. It is difficult to judge the distance and approach speed of a train as it moves toward the crossing. If in doubt, be safe, stop, and wait.
  • Slow down and be prepared to stop at the first railroad warning sign.
  • Do not drive around lowered gates. Call the number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency if you suspect a signal is malfunctioning.
  • If your vehicle stalls on a crossing, immediately get everyone out and far away from the tracks. You should move away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is approaching. Then, call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.
  • Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied.

Contact The Harris Law Firm

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