Punitive damages are considered punishment. Here’s everything you need to know about punitive damages and when they are awarded.

Punitive damages are awarded in situations where a plaintiff seeks to punish particularly appalling behavior done by a defendant. Punitive damages must be awarded in conjunction with other damages.

What are punitive damages?

Most personal injury lawsuits require damages to be paid. In many cases, defendants are required to award plaintiffs with compensatory damages, which compensate the plaintiff for injuries the defendant may have caused. However, plaintiffs may be able to pursue both punitive and compensatory damages under some circumstances. Punitive damages are a lot less common than compensatory damages and they are only available in extreme circumstances where a plaintiff seeks to punish particularly damaging behavior done by the defendant. Punitive damages have two primary purposes. These include:

  • Punitive damages are intended to punish particularly damaging behavior done by the defendant.
  • Punitive damages can be used to set an example. Thus, punitive damages are also referred to as “exemplary” damages, as they are intended to keep the defendant from ever repeating their bad behavior. They are also intended to keep others from committing the same behavior as the defendant.

Related: Benefits of Settling a Personal Injury Case

When are punitive damages awarded?

The awarding of punitive damages is not common. However, when they are awarded, it can be in cases where the defendant acted fraudulently, intentionally, or willfully and wantonly. In most personal injury lawsuits, claims state that the defendant acted negligently. This differs from cases where the defendant may have acted fraudulently or intentionally, and therefore negligence cases would not involve punitive damages. However, some negligence cases can be so extreme that they may be considered “willful and wanton” behavior. This would be determined by considering the defendant’s behavior to have “intentionally inflicted a highly unreasonable risk of harm upon others in conscious disregard of it.”

What is required for punitive damages to be awarded?

Punitive damages cannot be awarded without other types of damages. Additionally, such damages must be awarded last in the train of awarded damages. Other damages can include compensatory, nominal, and restitution damages. Moreover, for punitive damages to be awarded, there must be:

Malicious intent

Punitive damages cannot be awarded purely on the basis of a defendant acting negligently. However, they can be awarded if a defendant acted in a malicious, purposeful, or both malicious and purposeful manner.

Direct Harm

In order to receive punitive damages, the plaintiff must be directly injured by the defendant. Therefore, cases in which the defendant did not directly harm the plaintiff will not lead to punitive damages.

Related: How to Find a Good Personal Injury Attorney In California

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