Can I Be Awarded Punitive Damages in My Personal Injury Lawsuit?


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If you have been injured due to the negligence of someone, you have likely acquired expenses that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Many injuries result in medical expenses, loss of wages, and sometimes property repair or replacement. These are all expenses that you are entitled to when you win a personal injury lawsuit. But what if the person at fault caused your injuries out of malice or with extremely reckless behavior? If that has happened to you, then you may also be allowed to ask for punitive damages in your lawsuit.

Types of Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

The damages that you can be awarded in a personal injury case are divided into categories, which may overlap. For example, some compensatory damages may also be categorized as economic damages. Generally, the categories are divided as follows:

  • Economic Damages – These damages include monetary losses and are sometimes referred to as actual damages. They encompass the expenses the plaintiff incurred due to the injury. For example, medical bills, lost wages, and costs of replacing or repairing damaged property.
  • Non-Economic Damages – These types of damages refer to compensation for losses that have had a negative impact on the plaintiff but cannot be assigned a specific monetary value. Examples of non-economic damages include: pain and suffering, emotional distress loss of companionship, and loss of consortium.  
  • Punitive Damages – These are damages that are meant to be a punishment to the person (or entity) that is responsible for causing the injury. They are only awarded to the plaintiff if the defendant’s behavior is found to have been exceptionally malicious or reckless.

More About Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are unlike economic and non-economic damages as they are intended to penalize the defendant for his or her behavior and are not directly tied to the injury. In other words, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for a defined loss, though the plaintiff is the one who receives the damages from the defendant if they are awarded.

Some states permit plaintiffs in personal injury cases to sue for punitive damages when the defendant’s behavior is found to have been grossly negligent, intentional, malicious, or reckless.

Gross negligence refers to behavior that demonstrates a conscious disregard or indifference for other’s safety, life, or rights. It differs from ordinary negligence which is defined as a violation of a general duty to behave with reasonable care, instead having the added aspect of recklessness. For example, a Pennsylvania jury recently awarded a man $20 million in a lawsuit in which a man had his leg amputated below the knee after a young boy driving a tractor ran over him. In the lawsuit, he was awarded compensatory damages, but the jury also awarded punitive damages because the child’s father was “proud” of the fact that he often let his 10-year-old son operate the heavy equipment. The jury found that such behavior constituted gross negligence.

There has to be a reasonable basis for a plaintiff in a personal injury case to seek punitive damages. If there is little or no evidence to support that there was indeed intentional misconduct or gross negligence, then the plaintiff and his or her attorney can have sanctions brought against them by the court. The reason for this is to prevent frivolous lawsuits and courts take it very seriously.

What is the Rationale behind Punitive Damages?

As stated previously, the intent of punitive damages is to punish the defendant, not compensate for a specific loss associated with the injury. Additionally, punitive damages are designed to prevent or deter others from committing the same or similar reckless behavior. For example, in a personal injury case that involves a car accident that resulted in injuries due to one driver crashing into another in an act of road rage, punitive damages may be awarded for both punishment and as to deter other drivers from engaging on road rage.

Limits on Punitive Damages

Some states place caps, or limitations, on how much a plaintiff can be awarded in damages. In Pennsylvania, there is no limitation on how much can be awarded in economic and non-economic damages in personal injury lawsuits, but punitive damages are limited to two times the amount of actual damages. So, if a plaintiff is awarded a total of $750,000 in economic and non-economic damages, the most they can be awarded in punitive damages is $1,500,000.  

Contact Ross Feller Casey About Your Personal Injury Claim

If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation including punitive damages. Because personal injury lawsuits are typically complicated, it is always in a plaintiff’s best interest to work with experienced personal injury attorneys in order to have the best possible outcome.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have attorneys who are knowledgeable and experienced in handling personal injury cases of all types. We have a track record of successfully litigating cases with large financial recoveries for our clients who have suffered catastrophic injuries.

Contact us today for an appointment with one of our personal injury attorneys. Your case evaluation is free and we handle all personal injury cases on a contingency basis, so you only pay if you receive a financial recovery. 

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.