What You Need to Know About Punitive Damages

8 March 2021
 Categories: Law, Blog

If you have been injured in an accident, apart from general damages, you can claim punitive damages. This is compensation awarded if compensatory or general damages are insufficient. These damages don't only go beyond compensating you for your injuries but they also punish the defendant for gross negligence. Punitive damages set an example to discourage others from committing the same acts. Here's some basic information on punitive damages.

What Is Gross Negligence?

For your personal injury lawyer to succeed in getting punitive damages, they have to prove gross negligence. This is reckless conduct which is an indifference to another person's rights. Ordinary negligence means violating one's duty of care. However, with gross negligence, there's the additional aspect of recklessness.

A good example of gross negligence is when a property owner fails to fix an old roof that later collapses and injures their tenants. Assume a building inspector warned the owner of the potential danger of not fixing the roof and asked them to close that area of the building to tenants until the roof is repaired. The property owner ignores this warning, and the roof collapses soon afterwards. In such a scenario, your personal injury attorney can claim that the property owner was grossly negligent. They knew about the condition of the roof and consciously ignored their tenants' safety.

Punitive Damages Limits

In many states, there's a limit to the amount of punitive damages you can recover. There's a specific ratio between the amount of compensation for actual damages and punitive damages in some states. For example, a defendant in Missouri cannot get a punitive damage award of more than five times the actual damages. In fact, the limit is $500,000.

In other states, the judge will determine whether the defendant has the income capacity to pay damages. For example, in Montana, you cannot get punitive damages of more than $1,000,000, or 3 times the defendant's income.

The United States Supreme Court has a limit on punitive damages. You cannot recover punitive damages of more than a 10:1 ratio. This means punitive damages shouldn't be over 10 times the general damages. If the court awards $100,000 for general damages, it must award punitive damages of less than $1,000,000. 

In conclusion, before the court can award punitive damages, they'll assess whether the defendant's actions were intentional, malicious, or grossly negligent. The court will also look at similar cases to see whether punitive damages were given. The application for punitive damages will depend on the laws of your current state. Your personal injury lawyer will advise you whether or not to pursue a claim for punitive damages.