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Punitive Damages Worth

How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth?

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How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth? 

If you have been injured by another’s malicious or reckless behavior, you could receive punitive damages in addition to compensation. However, punitive damages are relatively uncommon in personal injury lawsuits, and each case is unique. Therefore, it can be challenging to estimate how much punitive damages are worth. 

Although most personal injury cases do not qualify for punitive damages, it can be worth consulting with our experienced personal injury attorneys to determine which damages apply to your specific case. Contact Morgan & Morgan today for free, no-obligation legal advice.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are awarded by a court and determined by the jury in a trial. Such damages are designed to punish a defendant and deter them and others from behaving similarly in the future. Punitive damages are relatively rare in personal injury lawsuits and generally awarded in cases where a corporation or other large entity deliberately caused harm. 

Although punitive damages are not designed to compensate the victim, victims will receive the amount. Punitive damages are usually given together with compensatory damages such as medical bills and wage losses and can drastically increase the amount a plaintiff recovers in a lawsuit. 

What Warrants Punitive Damages?

The following actions and behaviors could result in a court awarding punitive damages: 

Gross Negligence 

Negligence alone does not warrant punitive damages. However, gross negligence or recklessness by a defendant could result in the court awarding punitive damages. This could occur, for example, when a drunk or excessively speeding driver causes an accident resulting in serious injury. Although the driver did not deliberately inflict harm to the victim(s), their behavior was a danger to other road users’ life and limb. Likewise, a court could decide that punitive damages are appropriate when a defendant knew that their actions or behaviors could lead to others getting harmed, but they carried on regardless.

Willful Intent

Willful intent in the context of personal injury law means deliberately and intentionally causing harm to another. If you or a loved one suffered a severe injury due to another party deliberately attacking you and causing harm, a court could award punitive damages. 

Criminal Behavior

Some defendants in personal injury cases are found guilty of committing a crime. For example, a reckless driver may have violated several traffic laws when causing a catastrophic car crash. Crimes such as violent robberies, assaults, and murder can also lead to civil lawsuits. If the defendant committed a crime while causing your injuries, punitive damages could be more likely than in other personal injury lawsuits. 

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded? 

Only a few personal injury cases qualify for punitive damages. Before a court considers awarding punitive damages, several factors will be taken into account, including: 

  • Whether the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent, malicious, willful, or criminal 
  • Whether punitive damages were awarded in similar lawsuits

It is important to note that each state has its own criteria for applying punitive damages. Some jurisdictions are more likely to award punitive damages than others. In some states, including Washington, Nebraska, and Louisiana, punitive damages are entirely unavailable.

The Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages

 The fundamental difference between compensatory and punitive damages is:

  1. Compensatory damages are designed to provide justice and compensation to those wronged by a defendant’s negligence or wrongdoing.
  2. Punitive damages are awarded by a court to deter the defendant and others from acting similarly in the future and harming others.

In other words, compensatory damages seek to make the plaintiff “whole” again and reimburse them for the expenses they incurred due to the defendant’s reckless or malicious conduct. Punitive damages are separate from compensation and not designed to repay the plaintiff for their expenses or suffering. Instead, punitive damages are supposed to punish the defendant.

Examples of Compensatory Damages in Civil Lawsuits

Compensation is highly case-specific and will depend on the facts of your incident and the extent and permanence of your injuries. Your monetary expenses, such as medical bills and loss of income, will also be taken into account to calculate the compensation you are entitled to. In general, harmed individuals could receive awards for:

  • Wage losses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical expenses
  • Transport costs
  • Disability
  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Loss of life enjoyment

However, you could also receive other or additional compensation, depending on your actual damages and accident.

How Much Are Punitive Damages?

Since punitive damages will depend on various facts, there is no average amount. The actual damages awarded to victims can vary greatly. In some high-profile lawsuits, the jury awarded multi-billion dollars in punitive damages. One such notable case is the judgement against tobacco giant Philip Morris. The company had to pay $28 billion in punitive damages in 2002 after getting sued by an individual plaintiff suffering from inoperable lung cancer. 

However, most punitive damages are much more modest. According to the Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D), the average amount in punitive damages awarded to plaintiffs in civil cases was $64,000 in 2005.

Which Factors Determine Punitive Damages?

Generally, a jury will decide on the appropriate amount of punitive damages, which should be proportionate to the compensation awarded. To arrive at a figure, the court will consider the scope of the defendant’s misconduct, the extent and severity of the plaintiff’s injury, and the defendant’s financial background. After all, punitive damages should have a deterrent effect and “hurt” the defendant financially. Therefore, a global corporation found guilty of wrongdoing will typically face much greater punitive damages than an individual who maliciously caused an accident. 

Examples of Punitive Damages

Although rare, punitive damages can potentially arise in all kinds of civil lawsuits involving individual defendants, companies, and others. However, courts are generally more likely to award punitive damages to unscrupulous corporations. Punitive damages can be granted, for example, when a company continues to sell a dangerous product or drug for profit-driven reasons, knowing that the product could cause injury or death to consumers. Punitive damages are also awarded in particularly egregious medical malpractice cases. 

Other cases where a court could award punitive damages include: 

  • Drunk, distracted, or otherwise reckless driving 
  • Bad faith insurance claims
  • Nursing home abuse and neglect
  • Assaults and attacks

Individuals could be ordered to pay punitive damages if they injured another with intent. Punitive damages are designed to make an example of the wrongdoer, whether an individual or a corporation.

Are You the Victim of Another’s Deliberate Misconduct?

If you or a loved one got hurt due to another’s deliberate wrongdoing or recklessness, you have legal rights. Contacting an attorney as soon as possible can help clarify your next best steps and protect your rights to compensation. It is important to note that most states have statutes of limitations for filing personal injury lawsuits. In other words, every state sets its deadline for filing a suit, which could be as short as one year or four years or more, depending on the state you reside in.

Once the deadline has passed, you may have lost the right to fight for compensation or receive punitive damages. Waiting too long to take legal action can also make it harder or impossible to gather relevant evidence, such as witness statements. 

Our determined and caring attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have been helping the injured recover what they deserve for decades. We know how to build a comprehensive case against a defendant and fight for full and fair recovery. If there is a chance for punitive damages, we will argue strongly for your case and fight aggressively for justice.

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FAQ

How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth? – Frequently Asked Questions

  • How Much Is My Case Worth?

    Knowing what your case is worth or how much punitive damages are can be next to impossible as it depends on the kind of lawsuit you are bringing and your individual damages. The amount you could recover will also depend on your actual costs, such as healthcare expenses. Finally, the degree of suffering you had to endure as a result of the accident and your injuries will also come into play to determine your case’s worth.

    Our experienced attorneys can assess the facts of your case and give you an indication of what your case could be worth and whether you have a chance to receive punitive damages in addition to compensation. 

  • What Is the Ratio of Punitive Damages to Compensatory Damages?

    Although several states have placed caps on punitive damages, there is no “one size fits all” ratio used by courts to determine punitive damages in relation to compensatory damages. General guidelines provided by the Supreme Court recommend that punitive damages should remain in a single-digit ratio to the compensation awarded to a plaintiff. 

    In other words, the amount awarded for punitive damages should be no more than nine times that of the amount awarded for compensation. However, greater ratios could be acceptable when particularly egregious conduct is proven and compensatory damages are relatively small. Courts should ensure that any punitive damages are reasonable and proportional to the plaintiff’s injury or harm and the compensation recovered. 

  • Can You Get Punitive Damages Without Receiving Compensation?

    As a general rule, you cannot receive punitive damages without receiving other damages such as compensation. A court typically awards punitive damages after compensatory damages. 

  • Should I Hire a Lawyer for Punitive Damages?

    If you suffered significant injuries and financial losses, hiring an attorney can be instrumental in helping you get justice and a fair settlement with a personal injury case. A case where punitive damages come into play can be more complex and challenging to litigate. In the first place, an attorney will have to assess whether the criteria for awarding punitive damages are met and then argue strongly in their favor. Therefore, having professional legal representation presenting your case assertively could be essential if you hope to recover the maximum amount in damages. 

  • Do Insurers Cover Punitive Damages?

    Typically, insurance companies will not cover their client’s punitive damages when they have behaved egregiously or criminally. A court only awards punitive damages when intentional wrongdoing or criminal behavior is proven. However, most insurance policies explicitly exclude coverage for clients that caused damage by engaging in deliberately harmful or unlawful acts.  

  • How Can I Prove Punitive Damages?

    To receive punitive damages, a plaintiff has to prove with compelling evidence that their harm resulted from the defendant’s deliberate wrongdoing, maliciousness, or gross negligence. A lawyer can present your case strongly to the jury. If your case qualifies for punitive damages, our dedicated attorneys will leave no stone unturned in fighting for justice on your behalf.

  • How Often Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

    Although we often hear about cases with astronomical punitive damages in the media, in reality, such damages are rarely awarded. According to the CJ&D,  the incidence of plaintiff winners receiving punitive damages has remained consistently low and ranged between four to six percent between 1992 to 2005 (the last year for which figures are available). 

  • Morgan & Morgan Fights for Full Recovery

    We do not leave any money on the table when it comes to fighting for the injured. If you were harmed by a reckless individual or company and believe that your personal injury case could qualify for punitive damages, you do not have to struggle on your own. You need a tenacious and experienced attorney by your side who can gather the crucial evidence, argue in favor of punitive damages, and present their findings strongly to the jury. 

    Morgan & Morgan is on your side. Our biggest motivation is doing right by injured victims and holding malicious defendants to account for their actions, and stopping them from hurting others. As America’s largest injury firm, we have the stamina and resources to fight your case, no matter how long it takes. Our committed attorneys have to date recovered more than $10 billion in damages for the injured and could help you too. The fee is free unless and until we win. Get started now and schedule a free case review.

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