As personal injury lawyers, Clekis Law Firm has handled a multitude of personal injury case. In a personal injury case, it is important to understand punitive damages. First, in order to receive punitive damages in a personal injury claim, it must be specifically requested for in the original complaint. If a plaintiff fails to ask for punitive damages in the complaint, he or she will be barred for recovering them at trial. However, the plaintiff does not need request a specific amount.
When the plaintiff requests punitive damages, then the defendant may request a bifurcated trial. This means there will be two separate verdicts regarding damages, one for compensatory damages and one for punitive damages. If a bifurcated trial is requested, the trial must be conducted in two stages. First, the jury must determine whether or not compensatory damages are appropriate. If compensatory damages are awarded, the jury must then determine whether punitive damages are appropriate. In order for punitive damages to be awarded, the “the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that his harm was the result of the defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.” The answer is: it depends. If a jury awards punitive damages, an amount up to three (3) times of the amount awarded for compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is greater.
However, if the jury finds that either:
1) the wrongful conduct proven under this section was motivated primarily by unreasonable financial gain and determines that the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct, together with the high likelihood of injury resulting from the conduct, was known or approved by the managing agent, director, officer, or the person responsible for making policy decisions on behalf of the defendant; or
(2), the defendant’s actions could subject the defendant to conviction of a felony and that act or course of conduct is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages” the jury may award four (4) times the amount of compensatory damages, or $2 million, whichever is greater.
However, the cap becomes even more illusory. If the court finds that if any of the following apply, the cap will be waived entirely:
(1) at the time of injury the defendant had an intent to harm and determines that the defendant’s conduct did in fact harm the claimant; or
(2) the defendant has pled guilty to or been convicted of a felony arising out of the same act or course of conduct complained of by the plaintiff and that act or course of conduct is a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages; or
(3) the defendant acted or failed to act while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, other than lawfully prescribed drugs administered in accordance with a prescription, or any intentionally consumed glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.
The good news for personal injury claimants is the standard set forth that eliminates the cap enumerated above in paragraph 1 essentially means willful and wanton. If the defendant intended to harm and did harm the plaintiff, there is no cap to punitive damages. If the defendant was drunk or under the influence of non-prescription illicit drugs, then there is no cap. Additionally, if defendant’s actions led to a felony conviction there is no cap. Therefore, if the compensatory damages are high, the punitive damages can be high regardless.
If you believe you have a personal injury claim, contact the personal injury lawyers at Clekis Law Firm. Your consultation is free and there is no fee unless you collect.