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Personal Injury Claims: Understanding Punitive Damages

Insurance agent giving dollar payment to woman with broken hand,

Plaintiffs in a personal injury lawsuit can typically seek two types of damages; compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are monetary sums in place to compensate an individual for damages and other losses related to their personal injury claim. This compensation will typically include restitution for lost wages, damaged property, pain and suffering, and, of course, medical expenses.

In some cases, plaintiffs may be able to seek punitive damages. The word ‘punitive,” which stems from the Latin word “to punish,” is a legal term used to describe damages assessed against the defendant as a way to penalize them.

Not only do punitive damages seek to penalize the defendant for the harm they inflicted through their negligence, but punitive damages also serve as a means to deter others from conducting similar negligence. For example, if a company is ordered to pay punitive damages to an individual because the company failed to conduct safety testing on their products in order to save money, the punitive damages can serve as a reminder for other companies that product safety testing must always take place.

While most if not all personal injury claims result in some sort of compensatory damages, the same can’t be said for punitive damages. If an individual is awarded punitive damages, the damages are in addition to any compensatory damages they received. Let’s take a closer look at why punitive damages may be awarded and what they entail.

When are Punitive Damages Issued?

All fifty states with the exception of Nebraska allow for punitive damages to be assessed against defendants. However, in order for punitive damages to be considered, the defendant’s actions or negligence must be intentional and egregious, beyond ordinary negligence.

Punitive damages are often ordered against large corporations that are willfully negligent. This often happens when corporations put profits ahead of the products or services they provide. This type of negligence can often be observed in medical malpractice and product liability cases. Punitive damages can also extend to individuals as well. If an individual acted in a manner that was intentionally negligent or reckless, punitive damages can be brought against them.

Whether it is a corporation or an individual, punitive damages can be awarded when the defendant displays the following:

  • Gross negligence,
  • Malicious motives
  • Acts of violence including the intent to harm or kill
  • Recklessness including drunk driving
  • Outrageous carelessness

Courts use a standard when determining whether or not punitive damages are appropriate. The standards extend to all states that observe punitive damages and include the following:

  • A defendant operated with gross negligence. Their negligence was either extreme or reckless as opposed to simply being careless and unreasonable.
  • A defendant acted in a manner that was willful and wanton. This means that they acted in a manner in which they intended to cause harm.

A plaintiff who is pursuing punitive damages also has to meet a higher standard of proof in order to receive the damages. This standard typically is one that displays “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant acted in an egregious or intentional manner. Other aspects of a personal injury case, including when seeking compensatory damages, have to be proven by the “preponderance of the evidence,” which is a lower standard than the “clear and convincing” standard required to prove punitive damages.

Seek Legal Guidance

If you are moving forward with a personal injury claim, you might be able to seek punitive damages alongside compensatory damages. Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side can help you navigate this complex road. At Kistler Law Firm, our team of dedicated Palmdale personal injury lawyers can help you get the representation you deserve. Contact us today to speak with a representative who will fight for your rights.

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