One of the types of damages you could receive as a part of a lawsuit settlement or court award is punitive damages. These damages do not compensate you for losses you experienced or costs you incurred. Instead, they act as a fine for the defendant. In addition, they penalize the defendant for bad behavior and teach others not to behave the same way.
Understanding what punitive damages are makes it easier to see why they are not always awarded in every personal injury case. For example, they are relatively rare in car accident cases. Courts only use these damages when the liable parties act particularly egregious.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?
According to the Legal Information Institute (LII) at Cornell Law School, courts nationwide award punitive damages in only about five percent of all verdicts. Moreover, in most cases, the application of punitive damages is solely at the court’s discretion.
Punitive damages are generally only awarded when:
- The defendant acted in a grossly negligent way
- The defendant acted intentionally despite knowing injuries were likely
When a party acts in an obviously careless or especially harmful way, and there is strong evidence to prove it, the court may order them to pay punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages owed to the victim.
Juries and judges most commonly employ punitive damages when the defendant’s behavior was so reprehensible that paying the victim’s compensatory damages will not penalize them as much as the court believes is warranted.
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Is There a Limit on the Amount of Punitive Damages a Plaintiff Can Recover?
Many states have laws that affect the value of punitive damages. Some states bar them in certain types of claims, and others limit how much a plaintiff can recover. Examples include:
Alabama has limits on punitive damage awards set by Ala. Code § 6-11-21. However, there are no limits on certain types of cases, including intentional infliction of injuries and injuries that led to death.
Arkansas law limits how much the plaintiff can recover in punitive damages under Ark. Code Ann. § 16-55-208. However, the law allows courts to waive the limit if the defendant intentionally caused the harm.
Louisiana does not have any limits on punitive damages, but they are rarely used in the state. When a court awards punitive damages, it is usually a case when there is strong evidence of malicious, intentional, or fraudulent behavior.
Mississippi law limits punitive damage awards based on the defendant’s net worth under Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65. This means you might recover more from a multinational corporation than a small business or individual.
What Other Types of Damages Can I Recover in My Personal Injury Case?
Punitive damages are usually not granted without an accompanying compensatory award. This means you will recover money damages related to your economic and non-economic costs and losses, too.
Your attorney will work to document the value of your case by collecting proof of your medical bills, related expenses, and intangible losses. Some of the common recoverable damages in personal injury cases include:
- Medical bills
- Future treatment and care for your injuries
- Lost income
- Diminished earning ability
- Property damages
- Miscellaneous related expenses
- Pain and suffering damages
- Other intangible losses
Building a Case With Help From a Personal Injury Attorney
If you believe your case could qualify for punitive damages, you will want to work with a personal injury attorney to gather evidence and take the case before a judge and jury. Your lawyer will be able to offer advice and discuss the possibility of punitive damages and other financial recovery with you before you decide to take legal action.
It would be best if you got started as soon as possible with your case. This allows your legal team to gather the most evidence and build the most robust case possible to support your allegations.
There are time limits in each state for suing the liable party in personal injury cases. They vary but include:
- Alabama: Two years under Ala. Code § 6-2-38
- Arkansas: Three years under Ark. Code Ann. § 16-56-105
- Louisiana: One year under La. Civ. Code Art. 3492
- Mississippi: Three years under Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-49
Exceptions could mean you need to act sooner to protect your right to sue. Most personal injury law firms provide free consultations with a lawyer so you can learn more about your case without being charged. They also usually represent clients based on contingency, so you will not need to pay upfront fees, either.
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Discuss the Damages You May Qualify to Receive by Contacting Our Office Today
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