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What Are Punitive Damages?

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If someone’s negligence injures you in California, you have the right to request financial compensation from that person’s insurance company. The most common type of award for a personal injury is compensatory damages. Compensatory damages make a victim whole again by reimbursing him or her for economic and non-economic losses connected to the accident. The other type of award, punitive damages, is less common in personal injury claims in California. You may be eligible for punitive damages from a defendant, however, in certain circumstances.

Legal Definition of Punitive Damages

The term punitive means intended to punish or penalize. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant when the circumstances of a personal injury case make doing so appropriate. Some, not all, personal injury cases in California end with punitive damages given to a plaintiff. Their purpose is to prevent the defendant – and others in the community – from committing the same wrongdoing again. A judge may grant a punitive damage award, therefore, to teach a defendant a lesson. Punitive damages may also arise when the victim’s injuries are so severe or catastrophic that the judge believes compensatory damages are not enough to make up for the losses.

When Can You Sue for Punitive Damages?

Negligence is someone’s failure to prevent an accident or injury when a reasonable person would have in the same situation. If negligence gave you an injury in California, the negligent party may owe you money for your damages. Most personal injury cases settle between the victim and the insurance company without going to court. Insurance settlements will not include an amount awarded for punitive damages. Some cases, however, deserve more money than an insurance company is willing to give.

Many insurance carriers minimize the values of claims to protect themselves from having to pay large settlements. If an insurance company is refusing to offer a settlement that accurately matches your injuries and losses, you may need to go to court in California for fair compensation instead. A personal injury trial is where a judge may award you punitive damages if the circumstances of your case make you an eligible recipient.

When Will a Judge Award Punitive Damages in California?

In California, the law permits the collection of punitive damages during a civil claim that involves a defendant’s fraud, oppression, malice or duress of the victim. If the defendant is guilty of an illegal or wrongful act, he or she may have to pay the injured victim punitive damages in addition to compensatory. You or your lawyer can ask for a punitive damage award during a personal injury trial in California. The judge will then assess the defendant’s actions for fraud, oppression, malice or duress and may punitive damages accordingly.

The amount of punitive damages given to a plaintiff during a personal injury claim is entirely up to a judge’s discretion. In California, unlike many other states, there is no cap on punitive damages. The courts do not limit how much a plaintiff can receive in punitive damages. However, the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits punitive damages that are grossly excessive or arbitrary. Speak to a personal injury attorney to find out how much you may be able to recover in punitive damages.

When to Contact a Personal Injury Attorney

If a defendant in California is guilty of gross negligence, malice, intent to harm, fraud or another type of wrongdoing in connection to your accident and personal injury, contact an Orange County personal injury attorney for assistance claiming the damages you deserve. An attorney can help you negotiate for a fair settlement from an insurance company. An attorney could also represent you at trial in California, if necessary. If a lawyer believes you are eligible for punitive damages, he or she can make this plea to a judge during your injury trial. Working with an attorney can help you obtain full and fair compensation for all of your losses.

Covid 19 Update: We are accepting new cases and we handle everything electronically and remotely, so our clients never have to leave their homes.