An In-Depth Look at Punitive Damages

Most people have never been in a situation where they had to understand what punitive damages are, but courts have to constantly make decisions about punitive damages. For those unaware, punitive damages are meant to punish, reform, and deter the defendant from engaging in conduct that has hurt another party in one or more ways, like financially or physically.

Some jurisdictions don’t recognize punitive damages and adhere to other types of compensation. Punitive damages also, for the most part, aren’t awarded in contract disputes. It should also be noted that the definition of punitive damages varies from country to country. Let’s examine what is punitive damages and find out more information about them.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Before examining what is punitive damages, one must understand that this is very different from compensatory damages. Punitive damages usually involve circumstances that involve extreme misconduct. The jury is expected to examine the seriousness of the situation and award punitive damages based on the evidence set forth.

Punitive damages are never given alone. The point here is that they are an extra punishment to other compensatory damages, and the hope is that the punitive damages will deter the negligent party from performing these same actions in the future.

Punitive damages are also called “exemplary damages.” Some states have a split-recovery statute, as well. In these states, a portion of the punitive damages will go to the state. Punitive damages are usually only awarded in cases brought under tort law. Many state laws also limit the amount that can be awarded in terms of punitive damages.

Punitive Damages Examples

There are many examples that you might be able to think of where an individual could be entitled to punitive damages. One of the most famous examples of punitive damages involves Stella Liebeck, a woman who experienced second and third-degree burns thanks to a cup of coffee from McDonald’s. She experienced severe injuries and spent some time in the hospital to recover. She was also unable to work following the event.

Liebeck was awarded punitive damages when McDonald’s refused to pay her hospital bills, and she was awarded much more than just the compensatory damages. McDonald’s also lowered their coffee’s temperature when it was revealed that hundreds of similar claims complained about the coffee temperature. This lawsuit is one of the most famous in American history and is known as the “hot coffee lawsuit.”

If you are still asking, “what is punitive damages?”, let’s explore another example. Say that an individual is watching TV one day and is interested in losing weight. They see an advertisement for a weight loss pill that is all-natural and decide to order some. Once they ingest the pills, they immediately become incredibly sick.

The court would then determine what caused the individual to fall violently ill and examine whether the company was grossly negligent in advertising its products. There is ample evidence suggesting that the company knew all about the potential health risks but chose to keep that information from the public.

Here, the punitive damages would be added to ensure that the company is punished for the decision they made. The punitive damages are then meant to punish the company for choosing to act in such an irresponsible manner.

Have more questions about punitive damages or other personal injury-related law? Reach out to Erjavec Injury Law at our website or call 941-907-1133.