What Are Punitive Damages?

Wave Image

In the event you or a loved one sustain an injury caused by the actions of another individual or entity in California, you should be able to recover compensation for your losses. There are many causes for these injuries, including medical malpractice and car accidents. Typically, this includes compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and various types of pain and suffering damages. However, there are times when punitive damages are awarded as a result of a personal injury lawsuit. Here, we want to define punitive damages, discuss whether or not there are limits on how much could be awarded, as well as the likelihood that these damages will be awarded for your claim.

Punitive Damages in California Explained

Punitive damages are also referred to as exemplary damages. However, these types of damages are not awarded in every personal injury case. California law does allow the recovery of punitive damages, but only when plaintiffs can show that their injuries were caused by intentional actions or recklessness or by a defendant’s malice, fraud, or oppression.

Punitive damages are meant to serve as a punishment to the wrongdoer and to deter the future dangerous conduct of others. Ultimately, a judge and jury would like other individuals and entities to see punitive damages and think, “We better not do that, or we might meet the same fate.”

What is the Process of Recovering Punitive Damages in California?

The plaintiff must actually ask for punitive damages as they are going through the personal injury lawsuit process. Typically, a person’s personal injury attorney will be the one to make this request. However, the request for punitive damages may not specify how much compensation is being sought. It is important to remember that punitive damages, if they are awarded, are added in addition to the compensatory damages, not as a replacement of the compensatory damages.

Punitive damages in a California injury claim are sometimes determined in the same proceeding as the other types of damages. However, there are some situations where the punitive damage issue will be “bifurcated” and heard separately.

How are Punitive Damages Calculated?

There is not a set standard for how punitive damages or calculated for a California personal injury claim. When working to determine whether or not to award punitive damages and how much to award, a jury will consider a range of factors, including:

  • The reprehensibility of the defendant’s actions
  • Whether there is a reasonable relationship between the punitive damage award and the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The level of punitive damages it will take to punish the defendant and discourage others from the same actions
  • The defendant’s financial condition

In the state of California, there is no cap on punitive damages that can be awarded for a personal injury case. In other words, there is no maximum amount that a jury can award to a plaintiff. However, the US Supreme Court has stated that punitive damages should have reasonable relationship to the compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff in the case.

If you or somebody you care about has been injured due to the intentional or malicious actions of another individual, company, or entity in California, we encourage you to reach out to a skilled attorney immediately. A lawyer will handle every aspect of the claim on your behalf, including properly calculating compensatory damages and working to convince a jury to award punitive damages, if they are appropriate.