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What are punitive damages?

You, like many people across the state of California, may be familiar with the general idea of personal injury claims and damages. However, you may not know the difference between compensatory and punitive damages, or how punitive damages apply in any given case. Understanding when and how punitive damages are awarded in wrongful death cases can help you better navigate your own personal injury case.

While compensatory damages account for real financial losses incurred by a personal injury claimant, punitive damages serve another purpose. In addition to providing compensation for non-financial losses like loss of companionship, the Consumer Attorneys of California explains that punitive damages are often intended to serve as a form of punishment against liable parties. Personal injury and wrongful death judgments that include punitive damages are typically found in cases involving large corporations, and are considered by many to serve in place of criminal penalties. Therefore, the decision to pursue punitive damages can depend on the nature and severity of your case.

When considering the application of punitive damages, it is important to keep in mind that they are often more infrequent and modest than many people assume. It is estimated that only around 5 percent of personal injury lawsuits that result in a judgment benefiting the plaintiff lead to punitive damages awards. And of those cases, punitive damages are actually only awarded in around 30 percent of instances. Therefore, there is seldom a guarantee that the liable party in your case will be obligated to pay punitive damages. It’s also worth noting that awards of punitive damages are often reevaluated and reduced during the course of the judicial process, and that a large percentage of awards fall well below $100,000.

Even though punitive damages may not be awarded as often as you would think, they serve an important purpose in tort law. The information provided above may not apply to you or your case, so it is important to not misconstrue it as legal advice.

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