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When a plaintiff wins a lawsuit, they are sometimes awarded punitive damages. These additional damages are designed to punish the defendant and discourage them from repeating the same behavior. Although they are rarely awarded in their own right, punitive damages often increase a plaintiff’s award, making them a valuable addition to your case. But what are punitive damages, and when are they available?

What Are Punitive Damages Designed to Do?

Punitive damages are awarded to victims of wrongful acts and are often called “exemplary” damages. They are intended to punish the defendant for particularly egregious actions and set an example for others. Although punitive damages are rarely awarded, they can be appropriate in cases where compensatory damages would be insufficient. In addition, some states have passed split-recovery statutes that will allocate a portion of a plaintiff’s punitive damages to the state.

Generally, they are awarded in tort law cases and are not appropriate in contractual disputes. However, punitive damages may be awarded to compensate a plaintiff for pain and suffering, loss of wages, and permanent impairment of function. 

This punishment often coincides with crimes such as driving recklessly. Punitive damages are not intended to replace the lost property, but they should be proportional to the plaintiff’s damages. They also benefit from making society aware of the defendant’s actions. 

Do Punitive Damages Go to the Plaintiff?

In civil lawsuits, do punitive damages go to the plaintiff? In theory, yes. Punitive damages, sometimes called “exemplary” damages, are designed to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior. The purpose is to punish the defendant’s behavior and reform them, thereby deterring similar conduct from occurring again. Often awarded in cases of gross negligence, recklessness, or outrageousness, these damages go to the plaintiff.

In the United States, the highest amount of punitive damages awarded was $75,000 in 1955. In many jurisdictions, punitive damages remained low until Harmsen v. Smith. This case involved a securities fraud case and ended in a $14,750,000 award to the plaintiff. But even this amount is small compared to what was awarded in earlier cases. In short, punitive damages go to the plaintiff but are not available in all states.

When Are Punitive Damages Available?

When are punitive damages available in personal injury cases? Punitive damages are awarded in certain cases when the damages suffered by the victim are severe and disproportionate to the amount of money that the defendant can afford to pay. These damages may be worth several times the amount of compensatory damages and are limited in some states. 

To qualify for punitive damages, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant was:

  • Reckless
  • Purposefully hurting the victim
  • Was aware that his actions may result in injury

Such conduct can include wrongful misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose a medical condition, and surgery on the wrong part of the body. Similarly, dangerous conduct can also justify punitive damages. Street racing accidents, for instance, qualify as dangerous conduct.

Another common situation in which punitive damages can be awarded is when a hospital has been reckless in its actions. Punitive damages are also available in cases where a drunk driver kills another person.

Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages?

In personal injury lawsuits, punitive damages are awarded when a defendant is found guilty of gross negligence. These damages are meant to punish the defendant for their reckless actions. The victim may be eligible to receive these damages if they were left in a serious condition and suffered catastrophic injuries. 

Punitive damages are exemplary damages that are meant to serve as punishments for a defendant’s egregious behavior. Although punitive damages are rare, they can be awarded in cases of egregious behavior. This means that the actions of the at-fault driver must be beyond simple negligence or intentional act. Punitive damages are intended to punish the offender and deter similar behavior in the future. They are not awarded in every case, so it’s essential to consult a personal injury attorney to determine your eligibility for them.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

While punitive damages are rare at trial, it is an integral part of a personal injury case. It is important to remember that punitive damages are awarded to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from repeating the same behavior. Punitive damages are typically high in value and may range from a few hundred to several million dollars. Contact a personal injury attorney for punitive damages today!

While the pain associated with an accident will eventually subside, the pain may be permanent and irreparable. Having a personal injury attorney on your side can help you maximize your potential settlement. While an insurance settlement may be tempting, remember that the total compensation you can receive may be greater than the total compensation offered by the insurance company. While this may sound unfair, a personal injury attorney will do everything possible to build the strongest case.