What Exactly Are Punitive Damages?

20 February 2016
 Categories: Law, Blog


If you are embroiled in a personal injury case, then you may have heard of the term "punitive damages." It can be a difficult term to define and subsequently parse out. Luckily, you have this brief guide at your fingertips. Throughout the course of this article, you will learn what exactly punitive damages are, in what states you can be awarded punitive damages, and the monetary limits that can be placed upon punitive damages.

How Are Punitive Damages Defined?

Most damages that are paid to the plaintiff during a personal injury case cover time missed from work, medical bills, and an amount corresponding to any emotional or mental anguish that he or she may have received. Punitive damages differ from this pat definition of damages. Punitive damages are a monetary amount that is awarded to the plaintiff on behalf of the defendant because of a punishment levied against the defendant. The punitive damage sum is supposed to discourage similar actions by the defendant in the future. Punitive damages aren't always awarded in personal injury cases, and in some states, they simply cannot be awarded to the plaintiff.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded To A Plaintiff?

This is decided on a state-by-state basis. However, there are some basic guidelines that are generally followed by all states. Punitive damages are usually awarded when the defendant acted in accordance with gross negligence. Gross negligence is an extreme form of willfully neglecting rules; a willful neglect that very well may have lead to the plaintiff's injuries in question during a personal injury case. For example, if a person was willingly and recklessly driving, which is to say weaving in and out of traffic and driving at extreme speeds, then they were practicing gross negligence.

What Limits Are Set On Punitive Damages?

This is another matter that varies from state to state. Although it is rare, some states have no cap on the amount that can be awarded to the plaintiff in punitive damages. In other states, there is a definitive cap on the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages. For example, in Florida, you cannot be awarded damages that exceed more than three times the amount that you were owed in compensatory damages. It is highly recommended that you discuss this issue with your personal injury lawyer, however.

Hopefully, you've learned a bit about the issue of punitive damages and how they are awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases.