When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you reach a settlement that awards you with funds as compensation for the losses you sustained. The most common types of damages are economic damages, which include expenses such as lost wages and medical expenses, and noneconomic damages, which cover pain and suffering and emotional anguish. However, you may also receive another type of compensation in certain circumstances: punitive damages.
An Overview of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages refer to additional damages that California civil courts may award under certain circumstances. Specifically, punitive damages are a form of punishment. Courts award punitive damages when the at-fault party in your case is especially harmful or reckless. By making him or her pay more on top of the compensatory damages, the court hopes that the punitive damages will dissuade the at-fault party and others from ever committing such an act again.
When you receive your settlement in a personal injury case, the courts will compensate you for certain losses calculated by the legal team: medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and so on. However, punitive damages are not a form of compensation and the court awards them at its discretion. Different situations will result in different punitive damages.
Punitive Damages Under California Law
According to California Civil Code 3294, the jury in a personal injury lawsuit can award punitive damages to you as long as you prove that the at-fault party’s behavior was a form of malice, fraud, or oppression. Your evidence must be clear and convincing, proving that the behavior of the at-fault party was unnecessarily dangerous and led directly to your injuries.
California law provides the following definitions for malice, oppression, and fraud.
- Malice refers to conduct that the at-fault party engages in to intentionally hurt you. Malice can also refer to conduct that the at-fault party engages in, in a willful and conscious manner, that disregards other peoples’ safety and rights.
- Oppression refers to conduct by the at-fault party that places you in a position of cruel and unjust hardship and consciously disregards your rights.
- Fraud refers to situations where the at-fault party engages in the intentional deceit, misrepresentation, or concealment of a material fact. The at-fault party must commit fraud with the intent to deprive you of your property or legal rights, or the fraud must cause your injury.
Examples of Punitive Damage Cases
Using California’s definitions of malice, fraud, and oppression, we can develop a clearer picture of what types of cases may qualify for punitive damages. If a person driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs caused your injuries in an accident, for example, he or she may have engaged in a malicious act. The driver should know that driving under the influence disregards the safety of other people on the road, therefore qualifying as malice.
Another example of a case in which punitive damages may be applicable involves mislabeling of a product. Say that you purchase an all-natural supplement that claims to benefit your health. You start developing symptoms of a serious illness and the lawsuit reveals that the supplement contains toxic ingredients. You could receive punitive damages in this situation.
The Average Amount of Punitive Damages
The number of punitive damages awarded in California courts will vary from case to case. Unlike some other states, California does not place a cap on punitive damages. The jury will use certain factors to determine whether to award these damages and their final amount.
- The reprehensible nature of the actions of the at-fault party
- The existence of a relationship between the harm you suffered and the number of punitive damages you could receive
- The appropriate amount that would punish the at-fault party and discourage future actions
- The financial situation of the at-fault party
Punitive damages can provide additional compensation to you in an especially egregious personal injury lawsuit. If you need assistance determining if your case could qualify for punitive damages, visit an El Cajon and La Mesa personal injury attorney or call us today to learn more.