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What Are Punitive Damages



Punitive damages, sometimes called exemplary damages, are awarded beyond the actual loss of the plaintiff. These damages are typically given in order to deter that defendant or other defendants from engaging in the same or similar conduct. Plaintiffs cannot expect to receive such damages except in cases involving egregious conduct by the defendant. This type of award is also used in cases where compensation for the plaintiff's actual damages is found to be an inadequate remedy. You should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to determine whether punitive damages are applicable in your case.

Punitive Damages and the Law

There is not a maximum dollar amount of punitive damages that may be awarded. The Supreme Court decided several cases that limit punitive damage awards if such awards do not comply with due process. Courts typically use the ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages as one factor to determine whether the amount of punitive damages is so high that it is unconstitutional. Courts also consider how egregious the conduct was and the comparable civil or criminal penalties that apply to the conduct.

Attempts to Change the Law Regarding Punitive Damages

Punitive damages laws vary from state to state. Punitive damages awards are based on statutes in some states and are based on cases in other states. Tort reform is an ongoing debate in the United States. Several groups have suggested that punitive damage awards are too high, especially in high-profile cases. Lobbyists in several states have successfully obtained statutory caps on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, but several state courts have also ruled that such caps are unconstitutional.

How Punitive Damages Affect Personal Injury Cases

Because punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant engaged in egregious conduct, such damages are most frequently awarded where there was gross negligence or intentional conduct by the defendant and extreme harm to the plaintiff. If you are involved in a lawsuit where you believe the judge or jury may award punitive damages, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible in order to discuss how you can best protect your rights.

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