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What are punitive damages?

Damages in a personal injury case refers to money given to a plaintiff, or person suing, to cover their injury. The injury may be physical or damage to property. The point of damages is to compensate the plaintiff for the defendant’s actions. General damages includes: economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages are actual bills. For instance, medical bills and car damage are types of economic damages. Noneconomic damages are for injuries that can’t be calculated. These injuries include mental anguish and pain and suffering.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages aren’t directly tied to the injury a defendant, or person being sued, caused. This means the money isn’t given to compensate the plaintiff for a specific loss. These damages are awarded to the plaintiff to punish the defendant for their actions. The damages are also awarded to deter anyone else from doing the same thing as the plaintiff.

Reasons for Punitive Damages

The reason a plaintiff is awarded punitive damages vary according to jurisdiction. In some states, to obtain these damages a defendant must be grossly negligent or showed intentional misconduct. Other states require deceit, reckless or malice. The amount awarded to a plaintiff depends on how outrageous the defendant’s conduct.

Gross Negligence

All personal injury cases involve negligence. Negligence involves acting or not acting in a way that causes harm to someone or something. Gross negligence refers to a defendant acting or not acting in a way that shows a deliberate or intentional disregard another’s safety. This means a defendant deliberately acted that way to cause harm to the plaintiff because they:

• Knew their actions would cause harm
• Acted with certainty their actions may cause harm
• Should have known their actions would cause harm
Gross negligence is seen a lot in defective product claims. A defect product is any product placed on the market that causes harm. A manufacturer may rush a product to market knowing that it may cause harm such as defective brakes or stroller with a choking hazard.

Recklessness, Malice and Deceit

Acting with recklessness is similar to acting with gross negligence because there is deliberation involved. A defendant deliberately acts or not acts in a way that shows total disregard for safety for others. Malice is the intent to harm the plaintiff. A defendant acted in a way that would cause the plaintiff an injury. Road rage may be an example of malice. A defendant may owe punitive damages for ramming their car into the plaintiff’s car to get back at them for cutting them off while driving.

Deceit means a defendant misrepresented a fact to the plaintiff or tried to deceive them in some way. This misrepresentation or deceit caused the plaintiff injury. For example, a car manufacturer may have tried to cover up the fact that its car steering wheel didn’t properly turn when it sold the car. A court may punish a plaintiff to prevent this type of deceit from happening again.

Limitations on the Money Amount Awarded

A plaintiff can be awarded $1 or millions of dollars. The amount of money awarded may be limited in some jurisdictions. A limit means a jurisdiction may “cap” the amount a plaintiff can receive. For example, a jury may award a plaintiff $5 million in punitive damages. However, if the state caps punitive damages at $500,000, then that’s the amount the plaintiff will receive. A personal injury lawyer will be able to answer questions about caps regarding punitive damages in their jurisdiction.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer about Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are rare, but they are awarded. They are only awarded to punish a defendant for their wrongdoing. The money is also to stop a particular action or inaction. Only a personal injury lawyer will know for sure whether you have a case or if you have a good chance of getting punitive damages.

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