Yes, punitive damages can be available in that type of case. Punitive damages are basically a punishment to the person who caused the accident. You need permission from the judge, who would look at the case and he has to make a determination that the person who caused the accident was behaving in a way that was not just negligent but grossly negligent to the point where it caused a danger to other people, and it was so serious that punitive damages should be allowed. In an auto accident case, a good example would be if the person causing the accident was driving under the influence of alcohol that they put this other person at risk. They committed possibly the crime of DUI, and therefore, punitive damages should be allowed. The jury could agree to award punitive damages, which can be as high as either $500,000 or three times the verdict they award for the other damages in the case.
Definitely, in this type of situation, you would want to have an attorney on the case that could look at this, make these determinations and present this to the judge to get permission for punitive damages.