In a personal injury case, the main aim is to get the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for the damages the defendant caused. However, there is a category of damages that doesn't compensate for anything concrete — punitive damages.
Punitive damages are not available for all injury cases. Rather, the damages are restricted to situations in which the defendant's action is judged to have been intentional or grossly negligent. Gross negligence is any action that shows extreme indifference or disregard for the safety of others.
For example, a person charged with assaulting another person and causing them serious bodily harm can be ordered to pay punitive damages. Another example is if a property owner knows that their staircase is damaged and can collapse at any time but refuses to perform the necessary repairs to save money. If the staircase collapses and causes an injury, the property owner can be ordered to pay punitive damages because their action would be grossly negligent
Punitive damages don't compensate the plaintiff for anything, but they serve two main purposes.
The major aim of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for their actions. That is why courts don't award punitive damages in all cases. Rather, courts only award punitive damages in situations where the defendants' actions need to be punished.
Punitive damages are also meant to warn others against committing similar acts. Say a court finds a manufacturing firm grossly negligent for polluting a local water source. The court might decide to slap the firm with punitive damages to deter other companies from committing further pollution.
Since punitive damages are not compensatory, some states don't award it wholly to plaintiffs. In such states, courts divide punitive damages between the plaintive and the state. The damages are taxable so that some portion goes to the government. The rationale is that punitive damages are meant for the greater good of society, and the government is the custodian of society.
Here are a few other things to note about punitive damages:
- Punitive damages are usually at the discretion of the jury or judge.
- Many courts have caps on punitive damages.
- Courts discourage baseless punitive damages and can even issue sanctions against those who make baseless demands for the damages.
If you want punitive damages as part of your injury award, your best bet is to prove that the defendant acted intentionally or that they were grossly negligent. Get an experienced personal injury attorney to help you with the necessary proof.
To learn more, contact a personal injury attorney.