When a plaintiff files a successful lawsuit, the defendant must pay compensatory damages. Sometimes, the amount ruled extends beyond the value of the injury that is brought to court. These additional awards, also known as “punitive damages,” add additional punishment to violating parties. The subjective level of pain, suffering and distress experienced by the plaintiff as a result of the defendant’s actions are measured in order to determine the amount. Here is a quick rundown regarding what you should know about this delicate topic.
Purpose of Punitive Damages
Alternatively referred to as “exemplary damages,” punitive damages create an additional disincentive for wrongful behavior. This serves as a warning to others who would commit similar offenses, as well as provides an additional deterrent to the actual defendant.
Cases Involving Punitive Damages
In most instances, punitive damages are limited to tort cases. These are suits involving personal injury or destruction of property. Categories of torts include physical assaults, home devastation, and product liability. An example of the latter would be a drug company giving false information about the safety of its products and someone subsequently being harmed.
Punitive damages are never allowed in cases involving contracts, with the exception of those relating to insurance. In these instances, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the insurance company acted with malicious intent, rather than being guilty of a simple error.
Evidence for Claiming Punitive Damages
Documentation of a defendant’s actions is necessary to successfully claim punitive damages. The types of evidence that can be used to prove personal injury are wide and varying. A few of them include:
- Expert testimony
- False statements from the manufacturer regarding a product’s safety
- Proof of continued false advertising
- Demonstrable avoidance of correcting a known hazard
A lawyer familiar with the nuances of punitive damages can help gather everything needed to make a successful claim.
Limitations of Punitive Damages
Although there are no specific guidelines regarding how punitive damages should be calculated, the Supreme Court has ruled that these punishments are unconstitutional if they are perceived as being unreasonable. Under this loose parameter, judges are tasked with deciding when punitive damages remain acceptable. Expect the punitive damages for which you are eligible to be much lower than the compensatory damages you stand to collect.
Demanding punitive damages is a great way to increase the potential compensation for your personal injury lawsuit. Hiring an attorney with experience making these claims is strongly recommended.