Exemplary damages, or punitive damages, are monetary damages awarded to a plaintiff to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct from the public. The money is not awarded in every personal injury case. In the cases where the money is awarded, a limit or cap may be placed on how much is given to the plaintiff.

How Do Compensatory Damages Limit Exemplary Damages?

Many states place a cap on punitive damages that directly depends on the amount of compensatory damages received by the plaintiff. Compensatory damages are monetary damages given to reimburse the plaintiff for medical bills, damaged property, and other harm that they have suffered. Punitive damages are awarded based on the amount of actual compensation awarded.

What Is the Limit for Punitive Damages?

The amount varies by state. The general rule is a plaintiff can receive 2 to 3 times the amount of compensatory damages awarded. Some states place a money limit on punitive damages awards. For example, states such as Florida, Alabama, and Alaska limit punitive damages to 3 times the compensatory damages or $500,000. Other states such as Georgia and North Dakota also cap damages to 3 times the actual damages. However, they set their money limit to $250,000.


States such as New Jersey, Virginia, and California have a different limit. Virginia and New Jersey limit punitive damages to $350,000 or 5 times the amount of compensatory damages. California’s cap ranges from 3 to 10 times the amount of compensatory damages with no specific money limit.

Does Every State Award Exemplary Damages?

No. States that do not permit exemplary damages are:

  • Louisiana
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • Washington

No state allows this type of damages for breach of contract cases.

Are There Other Limits on Punitive Damages?

It depends on the state. For instance, Texas has additional provisions that apply when awarding punitive damages. In Texas, a plaintiff can only be awarded punitive damages by a unanimous jury.

Should I Hired an Attorney?

In many personal injury cases, the plaintiff may want exemplary damages in addition to compensatory damages. So it is in your best interest to talk to a personal injury attorney about whether you are eligible for them.