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Punitive Damages

Definition - What does Punitive Damages mean?

Punitive damages may be awarded in a personal injury claim as punishment to discourage defendants from similar future actions. Punitive damages are not always assessed in a personal injury case, but if they are, they are given in addition to other compensation such as medical care compensation, wage loss compensation, and compensation for pain and suffering.

Unlike other types of compensation or actual damages which are given to make the plaintiff whole and to restore them to the state they were in prior to the accident or injury, punitive damages are assessed to deter others and to punish the defendant for their bad conduct. If the court allows for punitive damages they are hoping the defendant, as well as others, will recognize the seriousness of the action.

When are punitive damages awarded in a personal injury case?

As mentioned above, punitive damages are not always awarded in an injury case. They may be awarded, however, when the conduct of a defendant is determined to be especially egregious, and the court believes the defendant completely disregarded standard social principles of duty and care.

For instance, punitive damages may be awarded when the actions were intentional, when the plaintiff suffers severe bodily harm, when a large number of persons are injured, or when the defendant's actions were far outside of the range of normal conduct.

How are punitive damages determined?

Punitive damages are not awarded for every personal injury claim. If punitive damages are allowed the award will vary by state and by type of injury claim. In fact, many states have strict rules and limitations or caps that may limit the amount given for punitive damages to two or three times the amount awarded for other damages. Other states have limited the amount paid for punitive damages for medical malpractice claims. While other states have determined punitive damages must be "relatively proportionate" to other damages paid.

Punitive damages have been under attack lately with more advocates of tort reform arguing that states should do more to limit their use.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also taken up the fight arguing that punitive damages should not be disproportionate or unreasonable and could potentially be a violation of the defendant's Due Process rights.

If you have questions about your state's laws or your right to punitive damages talk to an injury lawyer for more information.

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