What Are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case?

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Legally reviewed by Alex Uriarte on May 16, 2022 Alex Uriarte is a member of the 1-800-Injured network.

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If you have been involved in an accident or suffered a personal injury as a result of someone else’s actions (or inactions), then you may already be familiar with the term “damages.” Simply put, damages are losses incurred by someone due to an accident, injury, or another type of situation where another party’s negligence or recklessness caused you harm. 

There are two types of damages: compensatory and punitive. In the context of personal injury cases, these two types of damages have distinctively different purposes. They also carry very different implications regarding the outcome of your case––which is why it is so important to understand the difference between them when you’re considering bringing a legal claim against another party.

Continue reading below to learn more about what punitive damages are and how they can affect your chances of obtaining compensation in a personal injury case.

What Are Personal Injury Damages?

As mentioned already, “damages” refers to any sort of loss that a victim suffers in an accident that someone else caused. 

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are intended to compensate an injured person for their losses. This includes losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Compensatory damages are meant to put the injured person back in the position they would have been in if the accident had never occurred. 

Compensatory damages are further divided into two distinct categories: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages seek compensation for financial impacts — simply put, any impact comes with a measurable dollar value, such as medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, seek compensation for impacts that are not financial, such as the pain and suffering a victim must endure as a result of their injuries or the emotional anguish they are left with after a traumatic experience.

A personal injury lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, but there is another type of damages that are not included in the claims process that are instead meant to punish those responsible for their behaviors.

What Are Punitive Damages? 

Punitive damages are damages that a court may award to a plaintiff in a personal injury case in addition to compensatory damages. These damages are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct. They are not meant to compensate the injured party but rather to send a message that outrageous or egregious behavior will not be tolerated. Punitive damages are usually awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or malicious.  

Punitive damages are not available in all jurisdictions. They are not always easy to obtain even when they are available because the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious. Then the judge or jury must recommend these damages — your attorney will not be able to seek them. The courts have generally held that only conduct that is truly reprehensible will warrant punitive damages. For example, courts have found that punitive damages are appropriate where the defendant has intentionally harmed the plaintiff or engaged in fraud or deceit. However, mere negligence is generally not sufficient to warrant punitive damages.

It is important to note that punitive damages are not always available in personal injury cases. Some states have laws limiting the amount of punitive damages awarded or banning them altogether. Additionally, insurance companies will often fight hard to keep their insured parties from having to pay punitive damages. 

Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the determination of whether punitive damages are appropriate in a particular case will depend on the facts and circumstances of that case. However, some factors may indicate a situation where punitive damages may be warranted. If the defendant’s conduct was particularly reckless or malicious, if the defendant has a history of engaging in similar behavior, or if the injury suffered by the plaintiff was very severe, then punitive damages may be appropriate. Additionally, if the defendant is an individual or a small business rather than a large corporation, this may also increase the likelihood that punitive damages will be awarded. 

Mere negligence is generally not sufficient to warrant punitive damages. Punitive damages are only available in cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or malicious. Even then, this does not guarantee that you will be awarded this additional award.

If you believe you may be entitled to punitive damages in your personal injury case, you should discuss this possibility with your attorney. Your attorney can help you determine whether the facts of your case warrant a claim for punitive damages and can help you gather the evidence necessary to prove your case. 1-800-Injured can connect you with a personal injury attorney for a free consultation today.

Contact 1-800-Injured To Connect With an Attorney Today.

If you need help filing a personal injury claim due to the injuries you suffered as a result of someone else’s actions, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney who can explain how these different types of damages may affect your case and what impact they may have on the outcome. 

1-800-Injured is an attorney and medical referral service. Instead of finding an attorney on your own while trying to deal with the rest of the issues that come with a personal injury accident, we will connect you with a proven personal injury attorney for a free consultation. During this consultation, you will have the opportunity to discuss your situation in detail and learn about what you can expect if you choose to work with the lawyer you are consulting with.

Whether or not you deserve punitive damages, partnering with a lawyer is the best way to protect your rights and ensure that you are fighting for the compensation you are entitled to under the law. Do not try to navigate the complex legal system alone — let 1-800-Injured put you in touch with a diligent personal injury attorney who can help.