Punitive Damages Awards
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How Do Punitive Damages Work?
Punitive damages awards are often issued in certain types of personal injury cases. These usually involve cases where the plaintiff is injured or suffers losses due to the defendant’s extremely reckless or negligent behavior. They are also issued in cases involving intentional acts that injure the plaintiff, such as a civil battery case.
The punitive damages are issued "on top of" or in addition to the regular compensatory damages. Punitive damages therefore constitute a specific type of damages that are meant to "punish" the defendant for their conduct. Not all cases result in a punitive damages award. Some cases however can involve very high punitive damages, sometimes as high as two or three times the amount of compensatory damages.
What Are Some Examples of Punitive Damages Awards in a Personal Injury Claim?
Punitive damages may be awarded for various acts in a personal injury claim. Examples of conduct that usually result in punitive damages may include:
- Extreme negligence in a medical malpractice case, such as performing the wrong surgery or leaving a surgical implement in the patient’s body.
- Conduct that is extremely dangerous and exposes the public to a high degree of harm (such as taking out a weapon in a crowded place).
- Conduct that displays an extreme disregard for laws and statutes (such as driving at speeds well above the limit, or "joy riding").
- Continuing with actions even though the defendant knows, or should have reason to know that the conduct may cause injury to another person.
Thus, punitive damages awards may be issued for injuries that are caused either intentionally, or that result from negligence. Personal injury lawsuits that commonly result in punitive damages include auto accidents, medical malpractice suits, assault/battery, drunk driving accidents, and defamation.
What Are "Excessive" Punitive Damages?
In some cases, the plaintiff may request punitive damages that are considered excessive or unreasonable. Due to abuses of the legal system in the past, almost all states impose limits on punitive damages awards. The punitive damages should be proportionate to the defendant’s conduct, and are often calculated based on the other damages awards (such as compensatory damages).
Most courts would agree that a ratio of 10:1 (punitive damages to actual losses) is the absolute limit for punitive damages. This means that punitive damages should not be more than 10 times the amount of actual losses suffered by the plaintiff. For most states, the acceptable ratio is anywhere from 4:1 up to 9:1.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me with Punitive Damages Calculations?
Filing a personal injury lawsuit often involves many different calculations, and will depend largely on the state laws in your area. You may need to hire an experienced lawyer if you need assistance in requesting damages for a personal injury you’ve suffered. A qualified lawyer can help you determine whether punitive damages may be available, and can help when it comes to calculating the correct amount that you are eligible to receive.
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Last Modified: 09-30-2016 02:56 PM PDT
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