Punitive damages are specifically designed to punish a defendant for their actions. Punitive damages can only be awarded, however, if there were actual damages awarded in the first place. This means that you cannot receive them if you do not receive compensatory damages, though the amount of the compensatory damages is insignificant to whether or not punitive damages will be awarded.
What is the Purpose of Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are not designed to compensate a victim. They are instead used to ensure that the behavior of the defendant is not repeated, discouraging others in similar situations from not repeating such outrageous behaviors. These damages are designed specifically for punishment after the defendant has gone from alleged to proven guilty in the court – such as compensatory damages being awarded by a judge in a civil lawsuit. If the conduct is severe enough, punitive damages may be awarded regardless of the severity of the victim’s injuries.
For example, a drug manufacturer knowingly releases a drug with dangerous side effects, and they fail to warn consumers about those potential dangers. Even those that suffer from minor side effects can be eligible for punitive damages simply because of the actions of the defendant.
Who Decides if Punitive Damages Can Be Awarded?
Judges have the authority to determine what is “fair” when it comes to punitive damages, but if the case is a jury trial, the jury will decide if punitive damages are warranted, based on the law. The judge will then help determine a fair amount and ensure that they are not excessive. Typically, the amount of punitive damages is based on a ratio of the compensatory damages to punitive damages. In most cases, these damages range from three to as much as ten times the amount of compensatory damages.
What Types of Cases are Eligible for Punitive Damages?
There are some classes of conduct on behalf of the defendant that automatically qualify for punitive damages. However, that doesn’t mean that they have to be instantly rewarded. Discrimination cases, for example, will qualify for punitive damages, and violations of a person’s civil rights can as well.
There are also cases that are rarely awarded punitive damages, such as those regarding breaches of contract – unless such breach has to do with an insurance case.
In order to determine if the case itself qualifies for these damages, the court will look for several things that must be satisfied first, which include:
- The plaintiff must be awarded another type of actual damage. Punitive damages are not awarded on their own in any type of civil claim.
- The defendant must have acted in a way that is more than simple negligence or accidental. Instead, they must have acted with a malicious intent or conducted their actions purposefully.
- The punitive damages must be proportionate to the compensatory damages that were also awarded. Therefore, they will not be an outrageous amount while the compensatory damages are minimal.
- The acts must have harmed the plaintiff in some way, whether physically or emotionally.
Speak With an Attorney About Your Case to See if You Qualify for Punitive Damages
To assess your case better and see the types of damages that may be awarded, you will need to speak with a qualified attorney. Contact Hancock Injury Attorneys for a free consultation at 813-915-1110 or fill out an online contact form.