Punitive damages are most commonly awarded in civil matters, especially those related to personal injury claims. These damages are meant to deter a defendant from repeating the same act again while punishing them for committing it in the first place. They go beyond the standard compensatory damages that typically are awarded in civil suits involving personal injury, which are supposed to help the plaintiff offset the cost of the injury and any associated debt that built up as a result. For instance, a plaintiff might be awarded compensatory damages in order to pay for medical bills or to make up for lost wages. Any punitive damages would then be added to the compensatory damages. It is up to the court to determine if the punitive damages should be awarded based on the details of the case.
When To Claim Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are typically awarded as a result of extremely reprehensible conduct on the part of the defendant. There are many civil and tort scenarios in which punitive damages would not be awarded, like breach of contract. The court must submit a claim for the punitive damages that will be analyzed and scrutinized thoroughly in order to determine the validity of the claim. In order for punitive damages to be awarded, the following conditions must be met:
- Another form of damages must first be awarded to the plaintiff. It is not possible for punitive damages to be the only form of damages.
- The action that caused the incident must have been the result of malice and not neglect. Accidents rarely result in punitive damages.
- The value of the punitive damages claim must be relatively proportional to the value of the original damages, whether compensatory or nominal.
- The plaintiff must have been harmed directly by the incident.
The issue with many punitive damages claims comes down to the value of the claim and whether or not it is relatively proportional to the primary damages, since ‘relatively’ is a subjective term. Courts must decide if the damages amount is actually appropriate.
Standard Punitive Damages
There is no technical legal limit for the value of punitive damages, but that doesn’t mean claims should be made for outrageous sums. In strictly general terms, the standard ratio of 4:1 is accepted by most courts. That typically means a court won’t award punitive damages for greater than four times the value of the primary damages. While it technically would be legal for a court to issue punitive damages at any ratio, most courts agree that anything over 4:1 isn’t relatively proportionate.
There are numerous factors that go into the decision to award punitive damages, and those factors can certainly affect the final value of those damages. Courts will often consider the weight of the following factors:
- The amount of intent from the defendant. Exceptionally violent or purposefully acts translate into larger punitive damages.
- The size of the punitive damages claim versus how much the plaintiff suffered.
- The value of punitive damages awarded in precedent cases.
Courts have been known to award larger sums of punitive damages than the standard 4:1 ratio under extreme circumstances, including:
- Incalculable non-monetary damage
- Undetectable long-term physical harm
- Actions that are uniquely offensive
When a plaintiff is awarded punitive damages, regardless of the amount, the defendant is always given notice of the amount and what they did to justify the damages.
Seek Professional Help
A qualified attorney, like those employed by El Dabe Law Offices in Los Angeles, California, can provide untold assistance. Only a professional personal injury lawyer can help with personal injury cases that might involve punitive damages. If you believe you have a claim for punitive damages, you’ll need the services of a lawyer in order to present your case to a court in the best way possible.
A personal injury lawyer not only can assist with the civil case regarding your injury, but they can also determine how to handle the punitive damages claim in a way that is most likely to succeed. Contact a lawyer to avoid missing out on what you deserve from your case.