What Are Punitive Damages?

When you are injured through the actions of another, it makes sense that you should receive adequate compensation. After all, someone else did something that resulted in a loss to you. It's not your fault, and your entire life might be impacted, depending on how serious the injury is.

Because someone might have acted in a particularly egregious manner, the law also allows for the person to be punished further. When you have suffered a serious injury, you might be eligible for punitive damages in addition to the compensation you receive for the injury.

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages

If the other party is found at fault for your injury, he or she will be ordered to restore your situation to what it was prior to the incident. If you are hurt, the responsible party (or his or her insurance company) pays for your medical costs. If you can't drive your car, enough is provided to allow you to repair the car or to compensate you for the car's value so you can buy a new one. When your situation ends up making it impossible for you to go to work, your wages are accounted for and reimbursed.

In many cases, if your injury warrants it, you can receive an amount of money that reflects your pain and suffering. All of these items are known as compensatory damages. They compensate you for the difficulties of a situation thrust upon you through the actions of another.

But what if things go further?

There are times when a judge or a jury will look at what someone has done, and decide that further punishment is necessary in order to discourage this type of behavior in others. Punitive damages are those that go above and beyond what is considered adequate compensation for injuries. Instead, they help the plaintiff to a better position.

As punitive damages are published, others, who might have acted in the same egregious manner, might think twice, knowing how big an impact punitive damages can have on them. The idea is that the person who caused the injury is punished further, and that the example serves society by discouraging similar incidents.

How Much are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages vary from state to state. In some states, juries are given free rein and allowed to assess damages in any amount that makes sense to them. Other states, though, limit punitive damages. There are states that indicate which types of situations are eligible for punitive damages, and which must limited to compensatory damages. Additionally, even in states that allow for punitive damages, there might be caps on how much the jury can award.

Punitive damages are somewhat controversial because, in high profile cases, the damages awarded can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Some think that those high amounts are too much. Others, though, argue that such high-profile punishment can serve as a warning to keep the same thing from happening again - or at least force someone to think twice before making a rash decision.

In the end, a personal injury attorney can help you determine whether or not you are likely to be awarded punitive damages if you see your personal injury suit through to the end of a trial. It can be a good idea to discuss the possibilities with your lawyer before deciding whether or not to accept a settlement.

In some cases, it makes sense to finish a trial, since you might be awarded punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages you are entitled to. This is especially true if your injuries - and the resulting difficulties - are due to some gross negligence on someone else's part. However, if your personal injury attorney recommends a settlement, it might mean that punitive damages might not be forthcoming.