What Are Punitive Damages?

Dec 22, 2021

Legally, when an individual is harmed due to another person or persons’ negligence, they are compensated for their losses. The compensation that an individual receives depends on the unique circumstances of their case. While many people know that damages are awarded to cover the costs of the injury and financial losses, it is not always well known that additional damages can possibly be awarded as well. These additional damages are referred to as punitive damages.

At Wright & Gray, we ensure that our clients receive the compensation that they deserve. Through skilled negotiation and legal strategy, our team of experienced personal injury attorneys will advocate tirelessly for you. If you have been injured due to the negligence of someone else, you may be able to receive punitive damages. Consider contacting us at 888-912-4944 to learn more about this option and see if your case may be eligible for punitive damages. 

Types Of Case Settlements

In a personal injury lawsuit, if the court finds in favor of the victim, a settlement may be awarded to compensate for the injury. This settlement provides for the damages incurred by the individual. These damages can come in two forms, namely:

  • Compensatory damages
  • Punitive damages

These damages are determined based on the severity of the accident and the nature of the negligence involved. For this reason, settlements can vary greatly. In every successful personal injury lawsuit, the victim will be compensated such that they can return to their financial standing prior to the accident. In some cases, however, the court may determine that this compensation is not enough and award punitive damages as well. This can be very substantial for victims of an accident that resulted from someone else’s negligence or recklessness. 

What Are Punitive Damages?

Also called “exemplary damages,” punitive damages refer to compensation that goes beyond the scope of injuries and losses. They are awarded at the court’s discretion, typically when the defendant’s behavior is considered excessively harmful. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for their negligence and set an example to others who would consider engaging in the same type of reckless or dangerous behavior. 

While the goal of punitive damages is not to compensate the victim, they will still receive the monetary award. When punitive damages are directed by the court, the defendant must pay the chosen amount to the victim. It is important to note that punitive damages are entirely separate from compensatory damages and are not applicable in every situation.  

Compensatory Vs. Punitive Damages

How do punitive damages differ from compensatory damages? The difference is substantial. Beginning with compensatory damages, these are awarded to victims of negligence to compensate them for their injuries or losses. Some examples of compensatory damages include: 

  • Medical or hospital bills
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Therapy services
  • Property replacement or repair
  • Medical equipment
  • Lost wages or income
  • Long-term physical pain and suffering 
  • Loss of consortium

In order to qualify for compensatory damages, the victim must be able to prove that their suffering and losses can be equated to a monetary amount. In some situations, compensatory damages may be awarded to address future losses as well, such as a future loss of income due to the accident. The courts will make the final judgment regarding the monetary value of the victim’s overall losses.

Punitive damages are different from compensatory damages in that they go above and beyond mere losses incurred. While compensatory damages are used to provide the victim with enough money to counterbalance their losses, punitive damages are used as a way for the court to punish the defendant’s negligence or reckless behavior. 

What Is the Purpose of Punitive Damages?

There are several reasons why a court may award punitive damages, which may include: 

  • To deter others from committing similar negligence by setting an example of how future behavior will be punished by the court. The financial losses incurred by the defendant due to punitive damages can be significant, which is often an effective way to prevent such behavior from happening again.  
  • To financially punish particularly appalling or egregious behavior. In some cases, the defendant has acted so recklessly that mere compensation is not enough. 

How Do Courts Determine When To Award Punitive Damages?

Before a court will decide to award punitive damages, they will look at the case holistically and take several factors into consideration. Two elements are of particular importance: 

  • Whether the defendant’s actions were intentional, spiteful, recurring, or grossly negligent
  • Whether the history of prior case law has set a precedent of punitive damages in similar situations  

The second criteria is distinctly important, as courts rely heavily on case law to determine their position in the matter. 

Louisiana law takes a limited position on punitive damages, only awarding them in special circumstances. Louisiana Civil Code Art. 3546 states that punitive damages may be awarded depending on the laws of the state where the injury occurred or where the person who caused the injury resides. Moreover, in a recent court case from the Supreme Court of Louisiana, the court recognized that punitive damages are allowed under general maritime law. This is particularly important for injured maritime workers such as longshoremen, for example. 

For a clearer understanding of punitive damages in Louisiana, consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney at Wright & Gray. 

Contact Wright & Gray for More Information

When it comes to punitive damages, there are many legal complexities involved. Moreover, punitive damages cannot be awarded in every case. For these reasons, seeking legal guidance from an experienced personal injury attorney is important to understand all of your legal rights. An experienced lawyer can also help navigate the issue of punitive damages and determine whether or not your case qualifies for such compensation.

At Wright & Gray, we want our clients to receive the greatest amount possible in compensation. We understand the stress and pain that is so common following an accident. These feelings are compounded when the accident occurred to someone else’s recklessness. For this reason, we advocate for punitive damages whenever possible. Do not leave money on the table. Contact us today at 888-912-4944 to learn more about how we can optimize your compensation. 

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