Punitive Damages: When Can You Receive Them For A Personal Injury Case?

Posted on: 28 August 2015

Due to a rather large number of high profile cases offering punitive damages to the plaintiff, the term itself — punitive damages — has come into the public's consciousness. However, there is plenty that people don't know about punitive damages. In fact, many individuals are not even sure how to adequately define it. Throughout the course of this guide, you will learn a bit about punitive damages: what exactly punitive damages are, in what circumstances can you be rewarded punitive damages and finally, what the limitations on punitive damages are.

What Are Punitive Damages?

In personal injury cases, damages refer to what is owed to the plaintiff by the defendant due to an injury caused on behalf of the defendant. This is usually a specific monetary amount that corresponds to any physical and mental anguish that the plaintiff has received — this can usually amount to the defendant paying off the plaintiff's medical bills.

However, punitive damages are a bit different. While usually damages correspond to something tangible, punitive damages are a monetary amount that is paid to the plaintiff by the defendant in order to specifically punish the defendant for his or her actions.

Having to pay punitive damages is usually rare in a personal injury case, due to the fact that negligence is usually not grounds for having to pay punitive damages. Although the use of punitive damages varies from state to state, it usually involves the intention on behalf of the defendant. If the defendant caused a personal injury to the plaintiff out of spite, malice, or willful negligence, then there is a chance that he or she will have to pay punitive damages.

In What Circumstances Are Punitive Damages Rewarded?

Again, this matter varies from state to state, but there is usually a general consensus among states in what circumstances punitive damages can be awarded. First and foremost, if the defendant practiced gross negligence, then this might be grounds for the defendant having to pay punitive damages.

Gross negligence is a matter in which a severe degree of recklessness has been added to the element of negligence. For example, take into consideration a business owner with a failing roof. This roof collapsed, causing an injury to a customer. This customer can take the owner to court in a personal injury suit.

Now, in most cases, an owner failing to maintain his or her roof is indeed a negligent act. However, take into consideration a similar scenario where the owner, in fact, knew that his or her roof was failing and had even been told that the roof was failing by a roofing contractor. This, in itself, is grounds for gross negligence, because there is a sort of reckless abandon involved in not heeding the advice of a roofing professional.

What Are The Limits On Punitive Damages?

This is a matter that varies from state to state. Some states have no limits or caps on the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages, while other states, such as Florida, do have a limit on the amount that can be awarded to the plaintiff. Florida, for example, does not allow punitive damages to exceed three times the amount that normally would have been awarded to the plaintiff, or $500,000 — whichever amount is higher. It is recommended that you discuss this matter with your attorney so you can discover if there is a cap on the amount that you can receive in punitive damages or not.

If you are a plaintiff involved in a personal injury suit, realize that you may not be eligible for punitive damages. If you have specific questions about a case, contact a lawyer from a firm like Welsh & Welsh PC LLO.