Punitive damages are designed to punish, not compensate. They punish a defendant for their actions, and can be awarded as long as actual damages have been encountered, even if those damages result in a minor reward. The egregious conduct by the defendant is often the driving factor in determining if a case warrants punitive damages.
How Punitive Damages Are Used in Justice
Once the wrongdoing has been established in court – such as a civil lawsuit that was found in favor of the plaintiff – the defendant’s wrongdoings are no longer alleged conduct. Punitive damages are then used only if they can ensure that the offensive behavior the defendant committed is not done in the future – by them or another person. The punitive damages will send a message to others that this type of conduct is not accepted by the courts, and similar punishments will be used on those who do the same.
Who Decides if Punitive Damages Are Awarded?
Not all civil cases receive punitive damages. Instead, the actions of the defendant must be so malicious or intentional that the courts feel the damages awarded are not enough, and punishment is necessary. Judges are given special authority to assign punitive damages or deny them in civil cases. They can also ensure that they are not excessive, but that they still serve a purpose in the justice system.
In most cases, whether or not punitive damages will be awarded, as well as how much will be awarded, is determined by the judge overseeing the case.
What Types of Cases are Eligible for Punitive Damages?
Certain classes of civil cases are more likely to have punitive damages than others. For example, acts against those who are disabled, intentional or malicious behavior, and even gross negligence may be awarded punitive damages.
In order for punitive damages to be awarded, the judge will look for the following elements:
- The plaintiff must have been awarded actual damages – such as economic damages for their losses. These do not have to be an overly high amount, but some form of damages must be awarded.
- The defendant must have acted in a way that is more than negligent or accidental; instead, it must be malicious or purposeful.
- The punitive damages must be relatively proportionate to the actual damages, and often do not exceed more than three times the amount of economic damages.
- The plaintiff must have suffered direct harm to be eligible for punitive damages.
Learn More About Your Case by Speaking with an Attorney
If you are not sure if your injury case qualifies for punitive damages, or you want to know what type of damages you are eligible for, contact the attorneys at Horn Law for a consultation. Schedule your appointment at 816-795-7500 or ask your questions online.