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Can I make a claim for punitive damages?

By Spodek Law Group | January 22, 2023

If you have been injured in an accident, you need to understand the types of compensation to which you are entitled. In this regard, you may be wondering whether you may be able to make a claim for punitive damages in your case. There are a number of facts and factors to bear in mind when it comes to making a claim for punitive
Definition of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are an additional type of compensation awarded in some personal injury cases. Punitive damages are awarded in cases in which the party who caused an accident was particularly reckless.
Punitive damages not only serve as a means of awarding additional compensation to the injured person, but they also serve as a means of punishing the person who caused an accident for particularly egregious conduct.
Punitive damages are awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. Whether punitive damages should be awarded in a particular case is a decision made by a jury in a trial.
Considerations in Making a Punitive Damages Claim
In order to prevail in a claim for punitive damages, you do need to demonstrate that the conduct of the party causing an accident was particularly reckless or egregious. No type of negligence that results in an injury can be dismissed. However, there are instances in which a third party’s conduct is particularly over the top, warranting additional compensation to an injured person.
Take the matter of a texting driver as an example. A texting driver is engaging in negligent conduct. However, add to the mix that the driver is texting and driving in an active school and a child gets hit by the attentive driver. Odds are that a skilled personal injury attorney will be able to make a strong case for the award of punitive damages in a lawsuit.
Caps on Noneconomic Damages
Unlike lost income, medical expenses, and the like, punitive damages are considered in the class of noneconomic damages. As a result, the laws in most states impost caps on what a jury can award in regard to punitive damages. Thus, although you may read about a jury awarding a huge amount of money in punitive damages, that amount will be reduced to the maximum permitted by law in a particular state.
Appeal of Punitive Damages
A person who receives a judgment for punitive damages, particularly if the amount reaches the maximum permitted by law, can face the prospect of a court judgment being appealed. Oftentimes, when an appeal is lodged, the parties to a personal injury case reach a settlement in order to avoid all of the time and expense involved in the appellate process.
The U.S. Supreme Court and Punitive Damages
In determining whether punitive damages are warranted, a consideration cannot just be made of the extent of injuries sustained by a person. Rather, the extent of injuries is one consideration that goes to determining whether or not the conduct of the party that caused an accident was particularly reckless or egregious.
Some courts in the country previously had awarded punitive damages based exclusively on a consideration of the extent of injuries sustained by the victim of negligent conduct. This is no longer permissible pursuant to the most recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court on the subject.
Petition in a Lawsuit and Punitive Damages
When filing a petition or complaint in a personal injury lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer needs to set out that punitive damages will be sought in a case and why. The necessity of doing this at the outset of a case underscores the need for a skilled, experienced personal injury in a lawsuit seeking financial recovery for injuries caused by someone else. The failure to include this in a petition or complaint possibly can preclude a person from ever being able to seek an otherwise justifiable claim for punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured in an accident, and have more questions about your claim and punitive damages, a personal injury attorney will schedule an initial consultation with you to discuss your case. Typically, there is no charge for an initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer.
If you are involved in an accident that was due to the negligence of another party, it may make sense for you to pursue a civil trial. When you are looking to file a lawsuit against another party you will likely first look to receive compensatory or economic damages. These damages will provide you with an economic reimbursement for your actual costs or pain and suffering. Another type of claim that you can make is for punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages that are assessed in an attempt to actually punish the other party. When you are filing a civil lawsuit, there are several factors that will impact whether or not you can successfully file a claim for punitive damages.
Circumstances of the Misconduct
Punitive damages are different from other types of damages in that they are set to specifically punish the other party. In order to receive punitive damages, you will likely need to prove that there was deliberate misconduct. If you can prove that the other party was negligent and knowingly did not try to improve the situation, then you could receive some punitive damage reward.
Length of Misconduct
Another factor that will impact whether or not you are able to file and win a claim for punitive damages is how long the misconduct was outstanding. If the misconduct was temporary and only lasted for a short period of time, it will be hard to win the case. On the other hand, if you can prove that it was a recurring practice of the other party, then you could have an easy time winning the award.
Defendant’s Concealment
When they are looking to decide on the decision of a punitive damage claim, many juries and judges will also look to whether the defendant tried to conceal the claim. The largest punitive damage cases and judgements tend to come when it is obvious that the defendant went to lengths in an effort to conceal the practice. This deliberate attempt will normally be a lot harder to prove, but could result in a much bigger judgement if you are able to prove it successfully.
Amount Needed to Deter Future Misconduct
Once the jury has decided that punitive damages are appropriate, the next step will be for them to determine the amount to award you. A large part of this process will include figuring out how much money needs to be charged in order to deter the company or person from repeating this misconduct in the future. In many situations, these judgements end up being very sizable as the jury will want to make sure that the defendants are fully aware that they cannot repeat the action in the future. At the same time, it needs to be an amount that is affordable so the defendant is able to actually make the payments. This process could also include creating an escrow for future charges that could come about. In some cases that involve larger organizations, this could end up resulting in a class action suit against the defendant company.
In conclusion, if you are injured due to the negligence of another party, it may make sense to file a civil lawsuit. One of the biggest choices that you will need to make is whether you should make a claim for both compensatory damages and punitive damages. There are several factors that will impact whether or not you can file a claim for punitive damages and win. For those that are in the area, hiring a personal injury lawyer could be very helpful. Personal injury attorneys will help you to navigate the complexities of the legal process and help you determine whether you should file a claim for punitive damages.

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