When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Locate a Local Personal Injury Lawyer

Find Lawyers in Other Categories
Most Common Personal Injury Law Issues:

What Are "Punitive Damages?"

In a personal injury claim, punitive damages are sometimes awarded. The main purpose of punitive damages is to punish behavior that is particularly reckless, offensive, or dangerous. They are also imposed as a way of deterring persons from committing the same type of conduct. Punitive damages are not really meant to compensate the person for the losses caused by the injury; that is the role of compensatory damages.

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

For instance, suppose that a person was injured in a car accident. If the car accident was not accompanied by reckless or intentional behavior, the person will usually receive a compensatory damages award for their injuries. However, if the defendant acted recklessly (such as driving 60 mph in 35 mph zone), the court may issue a punitive damages award in order to address the reckless aspect of their behavior. Thus, not all cases involve a punitive damages award.

The court will look for the following elements to be satisfied before awarding punitive damages:

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?

Punitive damages are often limited to a certain amount. Limits on punitive damages may consist of a set amount (such as a maximum of $500,000), which may vary by state. Or, they may be calculated according to the amount of compensatory damages (such as twice or three times the amount of compensatory damages). In almost every case, it is usually a requirement that there be a compensatory damages award before there can be a punitive damages award.

Calculation of punitive damages is often done very careful and is closely scrutinized. This is in order to prevent abuses of the system, as in the past, some plaintiffs would claim an exorbitant amount of punitive damages. More recently, many states have placed caps and limits on punitive 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 especially when the act was intentional. Examples of conduct that usually result in punitive damages may include:

Are There Any Limitations on Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages do have limits. Many states cap the amount of the punitive damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff on the actual damages awarded in the case. These limits exist because punitive damages are a form of punishment, and so must be used fairly. They also exist to reform tort law, making it more difficult for plaintiffs to seek exorbitant damages for wrongful acts and making the legal system more predictable.

Limits on punitive damages may consist of a set amount (such as a maximum of $500,000), which may vary by state. Some states also give some or even all punitive damages to charity rather than to the plaintiff, so that the defendant is punished, but the plaintiff does not profit from that punishment.

Should I Hire a Lawyer if I Need Help with Punitive Damages?

Obtaining a punitive damages award can often be complicated, since each state has very specific rules regarding the limits and calculations of such awards. You may need to hire a personal injury lawyer if you need assistance with any personal injury claims that might involve punitive damages. Your attorney can help provide you with legal advice on the claim, and can determine what options you have in terms of legal damages.

Consult a Lawyer - Present Your Case Now!
Last Modified: 09-30-2016 02:56 PM PDT

Find the Right Lawyer Now

Link to this page

Law Library Disclaimer

LegalMatch Service Mark