Punitive damages are calculated based on the wrongfulness of a defendant’s conduct, as determined by a jury. They are intended to reform the defendant’s conduct and make an example to other potential defendants that conduct of this kind is wrongful and will not be tolerated. Punitive damages are not available in all causes of action and vary according to state law. Consult an attorney about your claim to determine whether punitive damages may be available in your case.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?
Punitive Damages are frequently awarded in cases of egregious conduct, or when the conduct was willful or wanton or the defendant had “reckless disregard for the safety of others”, usually in tort cases. Punitive damages are also known as “exemplary damages,” to demonstrate wrongfulness of the conduct. Punitive damages may also be available in some types of contract actions. Frequently, punitive damages are available when the defendant’s conduct was intentionally harmful, such as in an assault and battery or unlawful imprisonment case. They are not usually available in negligence cases, which arise when a defendant falls below a reasonable standard of care, such as a typical car accident case. However, if the defendant knew or should have known the conduct was wrong, such as driving while intoxicated and causing an accident, punitive damages may be available.
In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded to adequately compensate the plaintiff when the defendant’s conduct was clearly wrong, but the other types of damages, such as medical bills, or nominal damages (damages that signify the defendant was wrong, which can be as low as $1), are not enough to adequately compensate the plaintiff for the plaintiff’s loss in the eyes of the jury. In some cases, punitive damages greatly exceed the other compensable damages. Typically, the judge must approve the award given by a jury to ensure that it is not unreasonable or too excessive.
How Tort Reform Has Affected Punitive Damages
Tort Reform has affected punitive damages in some cases, and this area of law is still under development. Tort reform is a political movement to restrict damages in certain cases. There is a fear that “runaway juries” will award disproportionately large verdicts. Unfortunately, the way that a case is portrayed in the media is never the same way that it is perceived by the 12 members of a jury who are present to hear all the facts in a courtroom. Emotion can be a factor in the award of punitive damages, but considering that these types of damages are to prevent this type of harm from reoccurring, it is no wonder that some juries would want to send a strong message to defendants that commit wrongful or egregious conduct which they knew or should have known was wrong.
Punitive damages vary from state to state, and this type of law applies only in certain cases. Call us at 404-577-8111 or contact us to find more information and set a consultation to begin discussing your case.