When it comes to personal injury cases, most plaintiffs are awarded compensatory damages. Punitive damages are awarded in very few cases because in order to award punitive damages, the defendant in the case has to be adjudged as deserving of punishment for intentional behavior that causes an accident/injury.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not directly connected with tangible injuries. They are awarded to punish the defendant for behavior that has been deemed reprehensible. Such a claim is only possible if there is intentional misconduct, gross negligence, or reckless, malicious, and deceitful acts.
Ordinary negligence covers the violation of the duty of taking reasonable care. Gross negligence includes an element of recklessness to it. Defined as behavior that is reckless and shows a conscious indifference towards the safety, life and/or rights of other person/persons, gross negligence may be claimed while arguing a case for punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits.
Limitations on Punitive Damage Awards
Depending on the state you are in, there are different caps placed on punitive damages. For example, some states like Florida cap punitive damages at 3 times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000 whichever is higher. Other states have different caps in place, and punitive damages awarded cannot exceed the caps placed by the state.
Reasonable Bias or Lack Thereof
An injured person is in a dire state. He or she may be suffering through physical injuries, mental trauma and more. In some cases, the injured person may lose his/her means of livelihood. They have the right to seek damages for all these claims. Covered under compensatory damages, the injured party stands to receive monetary compensation for medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering of a physical and mental nature, as well as for intangible losses like loss of consortium and loss of enjoyment for life.
However, to file a claim for punitive damages, the injured party and lawyer need to prove reasonable basis. This means that the injured person is seeking punitive damages for a reason, and has proof to back up his/her claim. If such proof of conscious disregard and misconduct is not found, and gross negligence is not proved, the injured party and lawyer stand to become penalized by the court. Frivolous claims are dealt with seriously and a monetary sanction for lack of reasonable basis may be levied on the plaintiff and the lawyer.