Punitive damages are awarded in some cases to punish defendants for, particularly egregious conduct. When it is more likely that the defendant’s behavior was intentional, or when the harm caused by the defendant is especially grave, courts may award punitive damages. This article discusses what punitive damages are and when you can pursue them in a personal injury case. Read on for the details.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are an amount of money awarded over and beyond compensatory damages to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct. Unlike compensatory damages, which are designed to compensate the plaintiff for losses caused by the defendant’s negligence or intentional actions, punitive damages serve a different purpose: they help ensure that other persons do not engage in similar behavior again.

Punitive damages are available in some cases where compensatory damages would not be appropriate. As stated by these San Antonio personal injury lawyers, punitive damages may be pursued when the defendant’s behavior was intentional or especially callous and reprehensible in a personal injury case. The purpose of these extra awards is to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct that caused harm to others through negligence or willful and wanton conduct.

When Can They Be Pursued?

To be eligible for punitive damages, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s behavior was intentional or showed reckless disregard for human life. In addition to these criteria, state laws typically include several factors used by courts when determining whether punitive damages should be awarded in a particular case. Some of these factors may include:

  • The degree of one’s financial condition: Defendants who are more financially able to compensate the plaintiff may be subject to larger punitive damage awards in Texas, for example.
  • Defendants’ wealth or lack thereof is a factor that courts consider when deciding whether to award punitive damages: The greater a defendant’s ability to pay such an amount, the more likely a court is to award punitive damages.
  • What the defendant’s behavior was like in similar past situations. If a defendant has been repeatedly accused of engaging in similar conduct, this may increase their risk of being sued for punitive damages.
  • The reprehensibility of one’s actions at issue: The more objectionable the conduct involved (such as an intentional assault or a particularly egregious case of medical malpractice), the more likely one may be to receive punitive damages if successful in court.
  • The defendant’s state of mind is relevant when determining whether or not a plaintiff can pursue punitive damages, especially under certain circumstances. If it appears that the harm was caused on purpose by a person who knew what she was doing and disregarded the consequences, punitive damages may be appropriate.

When Can You Not Pursue Punitive Damages?

While it is often possible to pursue punitive damages in a personal injury case, there are several limits on such an award. For example, some states cap the amount awarded as punitive damages in a personal injury case (such as Texas’s limit of $750,000). Other jurisdictions do not allow such awards at all under certain circumstances.

Punitive damages may also be unavailable if you settle with the defendant before trial or lose your case in court. For example, suppose you agreed to take a settlement for $20,000 instead of pursuing your case further and later discover that the defendant acted with malice or gross negligence when injuring you, such as drunk driving. In that case, it may be too late to seek punitive damages because you settled out of court.

What To Do If You Have Questions About Punitive Damages

If you are considering pursuing punitive damages in your injury case, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you on whether or not such a claim would be appropriate. For example, if the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious (such as causing harm while under the influence of drugs or alcohol), then you may have a strong case for punitive damages.

However, if the defendant’s actions were negligent but not intentional, punitive damages are typically inappropriate and might even harm your claim rather than help it. Some states only allow such awards if there was an intent involved in causing the injury to begin with. Whether or not punitive damages are allowed will depend on your state’s laws.

In conclusion, if you have specific questions about the possibility of pursuing punitive damages, consulting with a knowledgeable attorney can help ensure that your rights are protected and provide guidance based on what happened in your case. This is especially important if there has been no settlement yet or you lost at trial because it may be too late to pursue such damages once a settlement has been agreed upon. An attorney can advise you of your options and help ensure that the defendant is held accountable for their actions.


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