Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded in rare personal injury cases that reach trial and involve extreme conduct from the at-fault party. In some instances, punitive damages claims can result in shockingly high jury verdicts.

In rare cases, even seven-figure punitive damages awards are possible. Most of the time, however, courts refuse requests for punitive damages. If you are seeking them, you’re probably going to need the help of a lawyer. 

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

California recognizes two types of damages in personal injury cases—compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages include both economic damages and non-economic damages. They are routine in the sense that every victorious plaintiff receives some form of compensatory damages. 

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are extraordinary. This is because of a difference in purpose:

Given the purpose of punitive damages, you might think that the defendant should pay them to the government rather than to the victim. Nevertheless, in California, punitive damages go to the injured party. 

“Oppression, Fraud, or Malice”

The general statement is that to win your punitive damages claim, you must prove that the defendant’s conduct was outrageous. More specifically, the defendant must have acted with “oppression, fraud, or malice.” These terms may be described as follows:

Any one of these will do; you don’t have to prove all three.

“Clear and Convincing Evidence”

You must prove your claim for punitive damages by “clear and convincing evidence.” This standard of proof is harder to meet than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard that you will need to prove to win compensatory damages. 

It is much easier to meet, however, than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that a criminal prosecution must meet.  

Punitive Damages and Out-of-Court Settlements

Most personal injury claims settle out of court. And “most” doesn’t mean 75%. It means more like 97%. Nevertheless, you will likely have to go to trial to get punitive damages, because very few defendants, if any, will agree to pay them.

Additionally, very few insurance policies cover punitive damages. Remember, no matter how great the defendant’s liability, no insurance policy is obligated to pay a dime beyond the terms of the policy it issued. 

Does California Limit Punitive Damages?

Some states place specific limits on the amount of punitive damages you can win. California does not, except that you usually cannot win punitive damages from a government entity. 

The US Supreme Court, however, has ruled that the state cannot enforce “grossly excessive or arbitrary punishments,” which restriction probably includes excessive punitive damages awards. 

California Courts Are Reluctant To Award Punitive Damages

Even if you win your claim, you probably won’t win punitive damages unless the circumstances are just right. California courts are reluctant to award punitive damages in general.

Examples of Conduct That Might Justify a Punitive Damages Award

Following are some examples of conduct that can potentially result in punitive damages awards:

None of these scenarios guarantees the award of punitive damages.

An Experienced Hermosa Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Can Evaluate Your Case for Punitive Damages

If you believe that punitive damages are warranted in your case, by all means, do not try to represent yourself. Instead, seek the assistance of an experienced Hermosa Beach personal injury lawyer. 

Under the contingency fee system that almost all personal injury lawyers use, you only pay legal fees if you win compensation, and the amount you pay is directly proportional to the amount you win. If your recovery is zero, your attorney’s fees will also be zero. Our Hermosa Beach personal injury attorneys at The Simon Law Group can help. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation (424) 722-3209.