Suffering an injury or the loss of a loved one because of another’s negligence or carelessness can be physically, emotionally, and financially overwhelming. The trauma is even more devastating when the other party acted with malice or blatant disregard for your safety. In such situations, you could be eligible for punitive damages.
The purpose of a civil lawsuit is to compensate the wronged party for their losses. However, in specific situations, the court may also find that an award for punitive damages is appropriate. A knowledgeable Highlands Ranch personal injury attorney can evaluate your case, explain your rights, and help you navigate the legal process.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Personal injury law allows for two types of damages: compensatory and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the wronged party for economic and non-economic damages.
Any direct out-of-pocket expenses you’ve incurred as the result of the action, including:
- Property repair or replacement
- Lost wages
- Hospital bills
Noneconomic losses may not be calculable with receipts; however, they can be even more devastating to those who’ve suffered injury and loss. Examples include:
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of reputation
Punitive damages are awarded in rare instances when the court has determined that the defendant acted in a particularly abhorrent manner, causing injury or death through an intentional act or a blatant disregard for others’ safety. In such cases, punitive damages are set in addition to compensatory damages.
Punitive damages are intended to serve two purposes.
- Their meant to punish the defendant.
- They serve as a warning to others who might otherwise consider engaging in the same conduct.
What Is the Standard for Punitive Damages?
To prove negligence in a personal injury case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant:
- was responsible for a reasonable duty of care toward others
- breached that duty
- caused injury to others because of the breach of duty
For instance, a driver’s legal duty of care to other drivers is to help ensure their safety by following the rules of the road. If they breach that duty through a distraction like using a cell phone and cause an injury accident, they may be held liable for negligence.
The standard of proof for punitive damages, however, is much higher than for that of negligence. For an award of punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s “evil hand was guided by an evil mind.” In other words, the defendant either:
- intended to harm the plaintiff, or:
- continued to pursue a course of action knowing that it would likely harm others
In What Types of Lawsuits Do Courts Award Punitive Damages?
Although each case is unique, some examples in which courts may award punitive damages include the following.
A doctor commits a negligent act by incorrectly prescribing medication or failing to diagnose and treat an illness. That negligence becomes a case for punitive damages when the doctor realizes the error and attempts to cover it up to the detriment of the patient.
A driver becomes so enraged at another driver that he intentionally rams the other vehicle, causing a chain reaction accident with multiple injuries.
Insurance Bad Faith
An insurance company that systematically denies all claims of a certain type could be classified as insurance bad faith. For example, an insurer fails to cover a specific area’s residents’ claims for extensive hail damage to their vehicles and other property after a storm, causing undue financial hardship and physical danger.
A construction company or contractor intentionally used substandard materials to build a home, and those materials warped and gave out, leading to a homeowner’s death. A jury may decide that the defendant should pay compensatory and punitive damages to the deceased’s survivors because of the blatant disregard for others’ safety.
Hire a Personal Injury Attorney to Represent You
Pursuing any type of personal injury case can be complex, time-consuming, and costly. Because punitive damages are seldom awarded, pursuing such action requires keen understanding of the law. It’s in your best interests to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney that has successfully represented clients in personal injury cases involving punitive damages.