What Are Punitive Damages In Personal Injury Cases?

You may have heard of punitive damages being awarded in a high-profile court case, but they are not actually awarded as frequently as you may have been lead to believe. If you wanted to know if you could receive punitive damages in your personal injury case, you need to understand what they are.

When It is Possible To Receive Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are reserved for situations where the defendant's actions were reprehensible, and deserve a punishment beyond the repaying costs incurred by the plaintiff. Each state has its own definition of what punitive damages are, but they generally require gross negligence or intentional misconduct. This can include acting with deceit, recklessness, or malice.

While the plaintiff does receive the punitive damages paid by the defendant, they are not designed to compensate them for their injury. Those costs are calculated separately, and punitive damages are awarded on top of that.

Gross Negligence and Recklessness

Most personal injury cases involve some degree of negligence and recklessness. The degree of how negligent a person acted can be what triggers punitive damages to be awarded.

For example, if a business owner was told by a city building inspector that their roof was not safe, they would be obligated to fix it for the safety of their customers. If the business owner decided to ignore the requests of the inspector, and their roof later collapsed and injured customers, the business owner would most likely be found guilty of gross negligence and fined punitive damages. This is because the business owner was aware of the problem and willingly neglected the repair.

The Need For Punitive Damage Fines

The goal of having punitive damage fines is to deter people from exhibiting behavior that is intentionally negligent or reckless. It's the difference between a car accident that could have been avoided if the defendant was more aware of their actions, and if the defendant has road rage and intentionally causes an accident.

Caps On Punitive Damage Fines

Some states do place caps on how much the punitive damage fine can be. Florida, Alaska, and Alabama have caps of $500,000, or three times the compensatory damages received. Other states, like Georgia and North Carolina, have limits of $250,000.

If you feel like your case is eligible to receive punitive damages, you should work with a personal injury attorney to help ensure that the defendant is punished for their actions.