Can I Get Punitive Damages In My Case?
You’ve probably heard the term “punitive damages,” but just what are they, why are they important, and can you be awarded punitive damages in your case?
What Are Punitive Damages?
When a person in injured by the wrongful acts of another, the injured person is entitled to seek compensation for their injuries. Compensation may be awarded in a lawsuit by a jury in the form of economic damages, noneconomic damages (like pain and suffering), or damages for permanent physical impairment.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not intended to compensate a victim for their injuries or losses damages. Rather, punitive damages (or as they are also called in Colorado, “exemplary damages,”) are damages that a jury can award as punishment. Punitive damages are necessary in certain cases to punish a wrongdoer who has acted intentionally, recklessly, or fraudulently. And when punitive damages are awarded, they are further intended to deter the wrongdoer—and others—from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
Why Are Punitive Damages Important?
The ability of an injured person to sue for and recover punitive damages is important in the American judicial system because deterring bad conduct helps prevent injuries and helps save lives.
For example, punishing a company with punitive damages can help to prevent that company and other companies from creating and selling dangerous products and it encourages safety innovation. Likewise, an award of punitive damages can help serve to deter others from reckless driving, including drunk driving. Punitive damages can also help deter intentional or fraudulent conduct by individuals or businesses that cause financial loss to others.
Punitive damages therefore serve an important purpose in our society by protecting people and punishing those who deserve to be punished for the wrongdoing.
Can I Be Awarded Punitive Damages in My Case?
If you have brought a lawsuit for personal injuries, or are thinking about bringing one, you may be wondering if punitive damages will be awarded in your case.
Whether you will be able to recover punitive damages in your case will depend on many factors, and it is important to remember that not all cases will involve conduct that warrants a claim for punitive damages. An experienced personal injury attorney will look at the facts of your case, evaluate the conduct of the defendant, and determine if punitive damages are a possibility. An experienced personal injury attorney will engage in discovery in your case by, among other things, gathering important documents and talking to key witnesses. An experienced personal injury attorney will also sometimes hire experts to evaluate the conduct of the defendant. Sometimes the egregious conduct of the defendant is clear. Sometimes it takes significant digging to ferret out facts that may lead to punitive damages.
If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is possible that punitive damages may be an issue. A drunk driver may often be responsible for paying punitive damages because drinking and driving is known dangerous conduct that reasonable people know is likely to lead to serious injury or death of others on the highway. It is egregious conduct that should be punished. Other driving offenses may in some circumstances warrant punitive damages. A person who is speeding may sometimes be held responsible for exemplary damages if they cause injury or death in a crash. Likewise, a distracted driver using their cell phone who injures or kills another driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist can sometimes be held responsible for paying punitive damages.
Whether or not a defendant driver is responsible for punitive damages will depend on the circumstances of each individual case. If you have been injured in an accident, an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case to determine if exemplary damages are warranted against the at-fault driver.
Often a defendant will have engaged in bad behavior in the past and that continuing bad behavior is evidence that the defendant knows his conduct is bad and knows that injury or damage is likely to result from that bad behavior. Continuing or ongoing bad behavior can be a factor that a jury will analyze when considering punitive damages. Note, however, that a person does not have to have evil intent to have punitive damages awarded against them; reckless indifference to the health and safety of others can be sufficient to have punitive damages awarded and paid by a wrongdoer.
Note that insurance policies do not provide coverage for punitive damages, so individuals and business must pay those damages from their own pockets. Having a request for exemplary damages in a case can strengthen a person’s ability to negotiate a fair settlement when a defendant is faced with paying a potentially significant judgment from their own pocket.
In Colorado, punitive damages cannot be alleged at the beginning of a case. Punitive damages can be added to a lawsuit after an initial exchange of documents and only if there is evidence of conduct that supports punitive damages. While there is a fairly low bar to adding claims for punitive damages to a case, actually proving that a defendant’s conduct warrants exemplary damages at trial is not easy. Indeed, in Colorado the standard for having exemplary damages / punitive damages awarded is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But because of the importance of punitive damages in punishing wrongdoing, deterring others from engaging in similar wrongdoing, and preventing injury and death, that high standard should not deter an injured person and their attorney from seeking exemplary damages in an appropriate case. Once again, an attorney experienced in handling cases involving punitive damages can evaluate your case to determine if making a claim for punitive damages / exemplary damages is appropriate in your case.
If you’ve been injured, seeking legal help from a personal injury lawyer is critical to making sure your rights are protected. When you need a dedicated, sympathetic, and talented personal injury attorney with a proven track record of success who will fight for your best interests, contact Whalen Hersh today. We’re happy to offer you a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers to review the details of your case and discuss all your legal options, including the potential for seeking exemplary damages. You can reach us in Denver at (720) 307-2666 or in Colorado Springs at (719) 644-7000 to learn more.