“Punitive damages worth” are a type of compensation that can happen sometimes in lawsuits. They are different from other types of compensation, where the goal is to make the victim “whole again.” In those cases, monetary awards are tied directly to reimbursement for economic damages, such as medical bills or destroyed property, as well as non-economic damages meant to compensate for personal and emotional turmoil, such as “pain and suffering.”
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are specifically intended to punish the defendant for their wrong behavior. It's often the case that defendants with “deep pockets” aren't affected by a typical compensatory damages award. In these situations, large punitive damages awards can act as a deterrent to others who may consider engaging in the same behavior.
When Can I Receive Punitive Damages?
Under California Civil Code 3294, plaintiffs can receive punitive damages in personal injury cases when the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.
Under this statute, malice means that the defendant did something intentionally to hurt the plaintiff, or acted in a way that willfully and consciously disregarded the rights or safety of others.
Oppression refers to “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights.”
Fraud means that the defendant engaged in intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of material facts that deprived the plaintiff of property, legal rights, or caused an injury to the plaintiff.
Punitive damages may be awarded in personal injury cases where:
- the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol,
- the defendant acted with gross negligence in regards to the safety of others,
- the defendant committed assault and battery, including sexual assault.
Companies may also be required to pay punitive damages when they are aware of a potentially dangerous situation, such as buildings that are well below industry standards, and failed to take corrective measures.
To win punitive damages, plaintiffs will need to meet the standard of “clear and convincing evidence” when proving what level of malfeasance the defendant acted with. This is a higher standard of evidence than the “preponderance of the evidence” requirement found in many civil cases, but a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is common in criminal cases.
How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth?
California does not limit the number of punitive damages that a jury can award to a plaintiff. To receive punitive damages, the plaintiff will need to request them in the initial complaint.
When issuing an award, the jury is the party that will determine how many punitive damages the plaintiff will receive. In California, there is no limit on the extent of punitive damages.
However, the damages must not be excessive, and they must relate to the bad actions of the defendant in order to be valid. Punitive damages, therefore, are typically tied to the number of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, which are given to make them “whole” again after the injury. A typical California punitive damage award is calculated by multiplying the compensatory damages by a number between 2 and 9, with the resulting number being the additional award.
When determining how many punitive damages to award, juries will take into consideration a number of factors, including:
- how bad the defendant's behavior actually was,
- what was the actual harm the defendant caused,
- what was the potential harm the defendant could have caused through their bad actions, and
- what is an appropriate punishment for the defendant's bad behavior.
This last factor is a particularly important consideration when the defendant is a large company or corporation that wouldn't otherwise be affected by more traditional compensatory damages awards.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you believe you are entitled to punitive damages, due to a defendant's particularly reproachable behavior, you need the right legal team on your side. The personal injury attorneys at The Law Offices of Freeman & Freeman have helped our clients in Northern California receive the compensation they deserve for more than 50 years. For a free consultation, please contact us at 705-575-7141 today.