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What Are Exemplary Damages?

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What Kinds of Damages Are Available in a Personal Injury Case?

Plaintiffs are often awarded compensatory damages in a personal injury lawsuit to compensate them for personal injury, death, or property damage caused by the defendant. Compensatory damages include losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, and repair/replacement of property. In addition to compensatory damages, a plaintiff may be able receive exemplary damages, also known as punitive damages.

What Are Exemplary Damages?

Exemplary damages are awarded to a plaintiff to punish the defendant. The court also awards punitive damages to deter other individuals from committing the same acts.

What Sort of Behavior Qualifies for Exemplary Damages?

For a plaintiff to receive exemplary damages, the defendant’s actions must be considered:

  • Oppressive
  • Malicious
  • Violent
  • Wanton
  • Fraudulent
  • Grossly reckless

The actions must be so egregious or malicious that the defendant is used as a public example of how not to act. For example, a defendant writes a book telling readers the plaintiff committed murder even though they know that it is not true.

When Are Punitive Damages Not Available?

Cases for breach of contract prohibit punitive damage awards. It does not matter how poorly the defendant acted in the situation.

When Will a Plaintiff Receive Punitive Damages?

Not every plaintiff who wins a personal injury case will be awarded exemplary damages. The court will award the money after careful analysis to determine if the following requirements are satisfied:

  • The plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages, restitution, or nominal damages
  • The defendant acted in a purposeful or malicious way
  • The punitive damages are calculated in an amount that is proportionate to the actual damages, such as two or three times the amount of the original damages
  • The punitive damages are awarded for the direct harm of the plaintiff 

How Are Exemplary Damages Calculated?

Exemplary damages are set according to the compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, and most states have a statutory limit on how much a plaintiff can receive in exemplary damages. Typically, the plaintiff receives about three times the compensatory award. Most states require a plaintiff receive compensatory damages before receiving any exemplary damages.

Should I Contact an Attorney about Exemplary Damages?

Contact a personal injury attorney to help you understand exemplary damages. An attorney will be able to help you determine whether you will be able to pursue exemplary damages in your case.

Photo of page author Taelonnda Sewell

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-07-2015 04:06 PM PDT

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