When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded?
In accidents and incidents, the best law firms fight for their client’s rights to adequate compensation.
When successful, they can receive money for their medical bills, car payments, and other associated costs. However, in rare cases, victims are also entitled to punitive damages to set an example and punish specific behaviors. While not common in the average personal injury claim, you might see them awarded in some of the following situations:
The Jury Sees Fit
Many victims involved in car accident settlements receive compensatory damages to cover the costs associated with their accidents. However, punitive damages might be awarded if a judge and jury see fit based on the defendant’s actions. For example, if they acted fraudulently, intentionally, or willfully there might be a reason to believe they were more than just negligent. In that case, a jury might think the defendant intentionally placed a victim at an unreasonable risk of harm or consciously disregarded it.
Other Damages Have Been Fulfilled
Punitive damages aren’t awarded as an ‘either or’ form of compensation. You might only be entitled to punitive damages in unique situations if you’ve already received compensatory damages. These will always be awarded first, with punitive damages being awarded last.
You Were Directly Harmed
In most situations, victims will only be awarded punitive damages if the defendant’s actions directly harmed them. Otherwise, it can be hard to justify punitive damages as an acceptable option. Many famous cases have involved direct harm and punitive damages over the years, including a Los Angeles jury awarding $28 billion against tobacco maker Philip Morris. The plaintiff, Betty Bullock, had inoperable lung cancer and sued the tobacco giant for fraud, strict product liability, and negligence.
In 1992, Stella Liebeck sued McDonald’s after receiving third-degree burns from her hot coffee. She received $160,000 in compensatory damages, and the jury awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages when the jury found out McDonald’s knew their product was dangerous and hadn’t done anything to correct the problem. However, her punitive damages were later reduced to $480,000.
Malicious Intent Was Proven
Judges and juries might decide to award punitive damages to a victim when they believe a defendant acted with purpose, malice, or both. For example, you might not be awarded punitive damages for a car accident when the defendant made a mistake, but it’s more of a possibility if they intentionally ran another driver off the road.
Average Punitive Damages Amount
When you meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss your case, the topic of punitive damage figures might come up. When your case has the potential to qualify for punitive damages, it’s only natural to question what you might expect.
In most situations, these damages are awarded based on the severity of the case and generally don’t exceed a ratio of 10:1. If you received compensatory damages of $10,000, you might expect punitive damages of no more than $100,000. Depending on where you live, there might also be a cap on how much can be awarded due to impractical figures being awarded in the past.