What Are the Damages & Liability for a Road Rage Incident?

A woman enraged while driving.The victim of road rage can assert an injury claim for medical expenses, lost earnings, pain and suffering, punitive damages and other losses against a defendant. If the victim dies, a successful wrongful death claim may result in damages comparable to a claim for catastrophic injury.

Road rage is responsible for about two-thirds of all traffic accident deaths, which makes it more dangerous than intoxicated driving. Aggressive driving is contagious as well—about half of all victims of aggressive driving respond with their own aggression. An aggressive response can quickly turn an injury claim into a wrongful death claim, because more than a third of all road rage incidents involve a firearm.

Can You Sue For Road Rage?

If you are injured due to aggressive driving, you can sue for road rage, just as you can sue for any other type of injury caused by wrongful behavior. In Iowa, you can recover for the following losses:

  • Past, present, and estimated future medical expenses;
  • Past, present, and estimated future lost income;
  • Pain and suffering and other intangible losses, such as mental anguish; and
  • Out-of-pocket expenses.

You can also recover monies for damage to your vehicle, although strictly speaking this is not an injury.

The Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations sets the deadline for you to file a lawsuit over your claim. If you miss the deadline, your claim will die unless an exception applies. In most cases you must file an injury claim within two years of the accident, and you must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the date of the victim’s death. Following are some of the exceptions to the two-year rule:

  • The defendant leaves the State of Iowa and abandons Iowa residency during the two-year period; or
  • The victim is under 18 or mentally ill at the time of the accident, in which case they will have one year after they either turn 18 or regain their mental health to file a lawsuit.

Unless one of the foregoing exceptions apply, a late-filed lawsuit could be thrown out of court for failure to meet the statute of limitations.

The Burden of Proof

Road rage can be a criminal offense as well as a civil offense. While a criminal prosecution applies the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof, however, a civil lawsuit applies the much more lenient “preponderance of the evidence” standard. The preponderance of the evidence standard adds up to a “more likely than not” standard of proof. In other words, it is easier to win a civil lawsuit than to be convicted of a crime.

Punitive Damages

Courts may award punitive damages, known in Iowa legal circles as exemplary damages, only under limited circumstances. Even if you clearly deserve compensation for damages (medical expenses, pain and suffering, etc.), you will not receive punitive damages unless you meet the applicable legal standards, which include:

  • You must prove your entitlement to punitive damages by “clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence,” a standard that is higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard but lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard;
  • You must prove that the defendant exhibited “willful and wanton disregard” for your safety; and
  • To collect full punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant directed their conduct at you in particular. In other words, it is not accidental.

Even if the defendant’s acts were not directed at you in particular, you can still collect 25% of the punitive damages awarded if you can prove “willful and wanton disregard” by “clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence.”

Comparative Fault

Since so many victims of aggressive driving respond with aggression themselves, many such cases are the fault of both parties. If that is the case, a court will subtract from a party’s compensation an amount that is equal to that party’s percentage of fault. If the party is more than 50% at fault, however, they will receive nothing.

Wrongful Death

If someone dies in the accident, the victim’s estate administrator or close relatives may file a wrongful death claim. The plaintiff may claim damages for:

  • Medical bills;
  • Funeral and burial expenses;
  • Lost earnings;
  • Loss of bodily function before death;
  • The family’s loss of the value of the deceased victim’s services;
  • Property damage; and
  • The victim’s pain and suffering prior to death.

In Iowa, there is no cap on punitive damages, as there is in some states.

Is Road Rage Covered by Insurance?

Is road rage covered by insurance? Unfortunately, auto insurance does not cover road rage. Insurance companies refuse to cover road rage because it is an intentional act rather than careless behavior. Their exclusion is problematic not only for an aggressive driver who may face personal liability, but for victims who may find it difficult to recover the value of a substantial claim from a penniless defendant.

The “Deep Pockets” Strategy

The so-called “deep pockets strategy” is a strategy designed to help you recover the full value of your claim even if insurance refuses to pay for punitive damages. The most popular tactic is to find a third party to hold responsible for the damages, including the following possible co-defendants.

The defendant’s employer

If the defendant was on-duty at the time of the accident, you can probably hold their employer liable for their misconduct under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior.

A nightclub

Under Iowa’s dram shop law, a nightclub can be held liable for a road accident in certain circumstances. To prove liability, you need to show that the club served alcohol to the defendant driver after they had become obviously intoxicated and that their aggressive driving was related to their intoxication.

Manufacturer

Sometimes you can hold the manufacturer of a defective product responsible for an accident. This is a possibility even if the driver’s aggressive driving was also partially to blame for the accident. For example, it might apply if the victim’s gas tank exploded due to both aggressive driving and a defectively manufactured gas tank.

You might also seek to hold other parties liable, depending on the circumstances.

We Are 303 Legal, P.C., and We’re Ready to Fight for You

Over the years, the injury and wrongful death lawyer at 303 Legal, P.C., have seen it all. We simply will not allow a defendant or an insurance company to take advantage of one of our clients. You might be surprised, however, how cooperative some of them will become once they learn that you have retained 303 Legal, P.C., to represent you.

We invite you to fill out our online contact form, call our office at 319-423-3031, or visit us in Cedar Rapids, IA. The sooner you contact our attorney, the better your chances will be. And don’t forget, at 303 Legal, P.C., you only pay us if we win.