Typically, damages such as lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering are awarded in a successful personal injury claim or lawsuit. However, when a negligent party’s acts are particularly egregious orreckless, or intentional harm is caused, a plaintiff may be entitled to punitive damages as well. Punitive damages are not awarded often, so if you are thinking of pursuing them, it is vital to speak with a personal injury attorney who can help you understand the law and whether they may apply in your case.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Unlike compensatory damages that are intended to make a plaintiff whole and put them back in the position they were in before an injury or loss, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and deter others from acting in a similar fashion in the future.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?
In Pennsylvania, punitive damages may be awarded when someone has engaged in willful malicious conduct, or when his/her behavior is so careless that it displays a wanton disregard for the safety of others.
For example, if you are involved in a car accident that was caused by someone who was not driving recklessly or being intentionally aggressive, you may be entitled to compensatory damages for your injuries and losses, but you would not be able to sue for punitive damages. However, if another motorist caused an accident while speeding excessively, driving drunk, or texting and driving, he/she may be liable for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.
Other common types of claims that sometimes involve punitive damages include:
- Assault claims
- Medical malpractice cases
- Product liability claims
- Wrongful death claims
- Dog bite cases in which an owner knew his/her dog was aggressive
Elements Involved in Awarding Punitive Damages
Before awarding punitive damages, the court takes certain things into consideration. Plaintiffs seeking punitive damages must meet a high bar to prevent abuses of the system. Punitive damages are not awarded in isolation—the plaintiff must be awarded other types of damages such as special and general compensatory damages. The defendant must have acted maliciously or purposefully. Mere negligence typically does not warrant an award of punitive damages.
How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?
Punitive damages are awarded in an amount that is relatively proportionate to compensatory damages. In Pennsylvania, punitive damages are sometimes capped. For instance, in medical malpractice cases, punitive damages cannot exceed more than 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded, and 25% must go to the state’s MCARE (Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error) Fund.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident and believe that punitive damages may be warranted in your personal injury or wrongful death claim, it is critical to speak with an attorney. These types of cases are complex. An experienced personal injury attorney can evaluate your case and advise you of all the options that may be available to you.