What Are Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are a rare type of compensation awarded to plaintiffs if the party responsible for their injuries behaved in an especially reckless or malicious manner. Usually, it is up to a court to decide when a defendant’s behavior meets this threshold.

Punitive damages are also sometimes called exemplary damages, as they are intended to “make an example” of the defendant.

Punitive Damages by State

Punitive damages

Each state has its own laws governing when a plaintiff can request punitive damages and how much they can ask for. For example:

  • California places very few limits on punitive damages. Only when an employee sues an employer is it more difficult to seek such damages. (CIV § 3294)
  • Nevada ties the amount you receive in punitive damages to what you get in other types of damages, except in cases involving defective products, environmental contamination, and certain other circumstances. (NRS § 42.005)
  • North Carolina allows plaintiffs to receive a maximum of $250,000 in punitive damages, regardless of the case’s type. (G.S. § 1D-25)

If you think that your personal injury entitles you to punitive damages, it is a good idea to broach this topic with a lawyer as soon as possible. They can explain what punitive damages are and what laws your state has passed to regulate them.

Examples of Cases Where Punitive Damages Were Awarded 

Punitive damages tend to be rare because the criteria for awarding them is so high. There have, however, been several high-profile cases in which plaintiffs received millions in punitive damages, such as:

  • The Alex Jones case, in which a judge ordered Jones to pay $49.2 million for making defamatory remarks about the family of a school shooting victim
  • A Roundup case, in which a judge reduced the amount plaintiffs could receive in punitive damages but still allowed them to collect $24.6 million and $44.8 million, respectively, for exposure to dangerous chemicals
  • A hernia mesh case, in which a plaintiff recovered $17.5 million in punitive damages after a medical device malfunctioned with catastrophic results

Each of these cases is part of a larger legal action in which multiple plaintiffs sue a single defendant. Specifically, the last two cases involve mass torts seeking compensation for defective products: the plaintiffs claimed that a large corporation did not bother to properly test its products, and many people suffered harm as a result.

Joining a mass tort could make it easier for you to receive punitive damages and other types of compensation. 

Other Recoverable Damages in Civil Cases  

Most cases involve compensatory damages rather than (or in addition to) punitive damages. Compensatory damages may reimburse you for money you have lost due to the injury, such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Property damage costs 
  • Loss of employment or wages

Compensation can also account for your injuries’ challenges, such as: 

  • Pain and suffering
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Disability
  • Scarring

To compare, punitive damages do not compensate the plaintiff for any loss in particular; they are designed to punish the at-fault party for extremely bad behavior.

Proving You Deserve Punitive Damages

The burden of proof is on you, as the plaintiff, to demonstrate that the liable party’s actions were so egregious that you deserve punitive damages. You and your attorney could get that proof from a variety of sources, depending on your situation. For instance:

  • Your medical records could show that you had to get professional care to manage your injury and its symptoms.
  • The liable party’s records could show they knew about the harm they were doing but did not take sufficient action to mitigate it. (Your lawyer could find these documents through a process called “discovery.”)
  • Testimony from your friends and loved ones can confirm the circumstances under which you were injured or sickened.
  • Testimony from experts can discuss how the liable party’s actions were unreasonable and how your condition matches the likely consequences of the liable party’s negligence.

In some cases, the liable party admits they were at fault, which could make it easier for the plaintiff(s) to recover damages. Many times, however, they deny culpability. They may even make counterarguments, such as:

  • Underplaying how serious your injuries are
  • Blaming you for your own condition by claiming you were reckless, used their product improperly, etc.
  • Trying to get your case thrown out on the grounds that you did not follow proper legal procedure when filing it
  • Stating your injuries were caused by something other than their negligence

To have a successful case, you must collect strong evidence of your own position while refuting any accusations the liable party makes. A personal injury lawsuit attorney can assist you in doing so.

A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Seek Punitive Damages for You

A personal injury lawyer who handles mass tort lawsuits can be a big help as you pursue compensation. They can make sure your case meets all requirements and proceeds on schedule by:

  • Evaluating your case at no cost, risk, or obligation to you
  • Determining if you qualify to join an existing mass tort
  • Collecting evidence to make your case as strong as possible
  • Identifying how much compensation you deserve, including whether you may qualify for punitive damages
  • Helping you figure out what actions to take in your case (e.g., should you negotiate a pretrial settlement or take your case to trial?)
  • Filing all paperwork, forms, and other materials with the court and other parties in a timely manner
  • Speaking with all other parties on your behalf, so you do not have to confront the liable party in person

The law can be very complicated, especially when it comes to mass torts. This is doubly true if you are still recovering from an injury. Hiring an attorney can take the stress and burden off your shoulders as you seek compensation.

Seek Punitive Damages and Other Losses Today

Do you want help pursuing compensation after a personal injury or wrongful death? A mass torts lawyer from our network can help by explaining what punitive damages are and fighting for whatever damages you qualify for. Fill out our contact form to get started.