THE PRINCIPLE OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES AND ITS AWARD
What Are Punitive Damages?
This can also be called exemplary damages, which are damages assessed in order to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and/or to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit. Although the purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff, the plaintiff will receive all or some of the punitive damages award. Punitive damages are often awarded if compensatory damages are deemed an inadequate remedy. The court may impose them to prevent under compensation of plaintiffs and to allow redress for undetectable torts and taking some strain away from the criminal justice system. Punitive damages are most important for violations of the law that are hard to detect. Some states have a cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, whereas other states limit punitive damages to a “reasonable” amount based on the value of the entire case and additional factors.
It might interest you to know that punitive damages are awarded in a small number of cases, but if they are awarded, they relate to personal injury cases. These usually involve cases where the plaintiff is injured or suffers losses due to the defendant’s extremely reckless or negligent behavior. They are also issued in cases involving intentional acts that injure the plaintiff, such as a civil battery case. Punitive damages cannot be issued alone; instead, they are awarded in addition to compensatory damages (damages to compensate the victim, or to put her back in the position she was in before the injury). Punitive damages are not a “given.”
Having known what punitive damages is all about; let us talk about the examples of punitive damages awards in a personal injury claim. Punitive damages may be awarded for various acts in a personal injury claim. Examples of conduct that usually result in punitive damages may include:
- Extreme negligence in a medical practice case, such as performing the wrong surgery or leaving a surgical implement in the patient’s body.
- Conduct that is extremely dangerous and exposes the public to a high degree of harm (such as taking out a weapon in a crowded place).
- Conduct that displays an extreme disregard for laws and statutes (such as driving at speeds well above the limit in crowded areas).
Punitive damages awards may be issued for injuries that are caused either intentionally, or that result from negligence. If a person acts negligently and should have known their acts would result in substantial harm, they can be liable for punitive damages. Personal injury lawsuits that commonly result in punitive damages include auto accidents, medical malpractice suits, assault/battery, drunk driving accidents, and defamation.
Punitive damages are not meant to give you back something you lost due to the accident. They are meant to punish the defendant for conduct that was especially outrageous. The thinking is that the defendant needs to be punished in addition to the damages he or she pays as compensatory damages. Society as a whole also learns that this type of conduct will not be accepted through publication of punitive damage awards.
Even though punitive damage awards are meant to punish the defendant and benefit society, not the plaintiff, punitive damage awards are paid to the plaintiff in a case. These awards have been characterized as a windfall for plaintiffs because they put the plaintiff in a much better position financially than they were before the accident.
Not surprisingly, punitive damage awards are controversial and vary from state to state. Some states allow juries to award punitive damages in any amount that they feel is appropriate. With the right case, a plaintiff could receive a multimillion-dollar punitive damage award. Other states have severely limited punitive damage awards by limiting the types of cases where they can be awarded or placing statutory caps on how much money a jury or judge can award for punitive damages. For example, lawsuits against medical care providers for malpractice have punitive damage caps in some states. Plaintiffs may also receive punitive damage awards from insurance companies that deal in bad faith with their insureds and fail to treat their insureds fairly under the terms of the applicable insurance policy.
In discussing out topic “the principle of punitive damages”, we have succeeded to pinpoint the meaning and the awards that are gotten when there is a punitive charge against someone.