An injury can be devastating to your health, your finances, and your life overall.
When you’re injured due to someone else’s negligent behavior, you’re entitled to seek compensation to compensate for your loss and make you whole again.
But what if the actions of the person who caused your injury were so egregious that compensation for damages doesn’t seem to be enough of a punishment?
That’s when seeking punitive damages comes into play, and an experienced personal injury lawyer can help ensure justice is served.
Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases
There are a few different types of damages that a personal injury claim can recover. The main three categories of damages are defined by the injured party’s measurable loss, immeasurable loss, and the gravity of the wrongdoer’s actions.
The most common type of damages paid in a personal injury case, compensatory damages, is also known as economic damages. They generally refer to out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the plaintiff due to the injury.
Economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages due to the injury in question
- Actual damages to vehicles or property
A defendant in a personal injury case who pays compensatory damages is paying for the measurable financial harm that the injured plaintiffs incurred due to the incident.
Other losses are associated with minor or severe injuries; not all are as easily measured as those calculated through medical bills, check stubs, and repair estimates.
These immeasurable types of damages are referred to as non-economic, and they often include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
- Decreased earning capabilities due to injury
A jury will be required to put a price tag on this type of loss and award damages that are not easily calculated.
So, what’s the difference between compensatory and punitive damages?
Both compensatory and non-economic damages aim to make the injured person whole again. Making a personal injury victim whole is logically achieved by ordering the plaintiff to pay for financial loss, emotional distress, and pain and suffering,
Punitive damage awards, however, take things a step further.
Also called exemplary damages, punitive damages are sometimes ordered in personal injury cases where the at-fault party behaved in a particularly appalling way—so much so that they are required to pay damages above and beyond standard repayment.
Some courts may award punitive damages in cases where the defendant acted with gross negligence or malice.
Gross Negligence and Malice in Personal Injury Cases
An allegation of negligence is the core of any personal injury case. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the other party had a duty of care—or a responsibility to maintain the well-being and safety of another person—and that the injuries occurred due to their neglect of that duty.
An at-fault driver in a car accident is a typical example of standard negligence. They were responsible for driving their vehicle with care and focus, and their carelessness or lack of attention resulted in a harmful crash.
Gross negligence and malice go beyond that of standard negligence.
Gross negligence implies that the at-fault party either acted or failed to act in a way considered intentionally risky. The defendant allegedly knew of the risk and acted consciously with indifference to the safety and welfare of the plaintiff.
Common examples of gross negligence include:
- Reckless or drunk driving
- Neglect of primary care in medical facilities
- Hazardous conditions in the workplace
Malice takes it a step further and suggests that the party wasn’t negligent at all and, in fact, acted with willful intent to harm. Examples of malice include false statements leading to defamation, deliberate acts of assault, and vandalism.
The Purpose of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages serve as a deterrent for the public and are intended as an additional penalty or punishment for the negligent party that caused harm. Awarding punitive damages allows the court to make an example of the wrongdoer while benefiting their victims with the money awarded.
Punitive Damages Awards
To be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff in a personal injury case must prove with clear and convincing evidence that the injury or harm sustained in the incident resulted from gross negligence, malice, or fraud.
Evidence should address the following types of factors:
- What the defendant did to cause injury
- The character of the defendant’s wrongdoing
- The degree to which the defendant is guilty
- The sensibilities and the situations of the involved parties
- The net worth of the defendant
- Whether or not the defendant’s conduct is offensive to decency and public justice
A jury will decide if the evidence proves the grounds for punitive damages and how much damages should be awarded.
Get Help From a Personal Injury Lawyer
When you’re injured due to another person’s reckless, malicious, or negligent behavior, it can feel like a helpless situation. With the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, you’ll have an advocate who knows how to get all the compensation you deserve.
Make sure justice is served in your personal injury case.