Punitive Damages in Airline Accidents

The recent case of Delacroix v. Doncasters is a prime example of a situation where the Court imposes punitive damages against a defendant and in favor of the Plaintiff. In that case, an airplane crashed due to defective engine blades, killing six passengers. The families of five of them joined into a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the blades. During the investigation of the case pursuant to the lawsuit, it became apparent that the manufacturer of the blades knew that something was wrong with the blades, but went ahead and let them be sold anyways. The Court awarded the families of the victims $4 million each in wrongful death damages. In addition, the Court awarded $5.6 million per family in punitive damages.

Punitive damages are damages that are assessed by a Court for the purpose of punishing a party that has somehow behaved extremely badly. In the case of Delacroix v. Doncasters, punitive damages were assessed because the manufacturer of the blades knew that they were defective, knew that they were dangerous, and let them be sold anyways. The manufacturer cared more about profits than the lives of people. The Court decided to punish the manufacturer for this behavior by assessing a total of $28 million in additional damages (which, when divided by five victims, is $5.6 million per victim).

As one can see, punitive damages can greatly increase the value of a case. While different states have different punitive damages schemes, many states allow punitive damages in multiples of the underlying damages. So, punitive damages can potentially double, triple, or even quadruple an award, depending on where the accident took place. Some states do have laws limiting the amount in punitive damages that may be assessed.

One important caveat regarding punitive damages is that they may not be covered in all cases by insurance. Many insurance policies contain language which states that they will not pay for punitive damages. What is more, in at least some states such as Texas, Courts have held that punitive damages are intended to punish parties. Therefore, courts have held in some, but not all, punitive damages cases that the defendant should have to pay for the punitive damages out-of-pocket rather than have their insurance pay for the punitive damages. This is to make sure that the defendant and not the insurance company is being punished for the bad behavior. On the other hand, this insurance rule makes collecting punitive damages very difficult when the bad actor has limited assets which can be seized.

Punitive damages can greatly increase the value of an airline accident case. However, determining whether they are obtainable and how to go about obtaining such damages can be very difficult. If you have been injured in an airline incident, you may wish to talk to an experienced aviation attorney to plan a strategy for winning punitive damages in your case.

If you or a loved one have been injured, Call Carabin Shaw at 1.800.862.1260. We Can Help.

Visits with the Attorney are by appointment only. Main office San Antonio, Texas.

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