Ochs Law Firm Blog

What Are Punitive Damages?

If you’ve experienced property damage or personal injury due to someone else’s actions, you are likely entitled to receive compensation for your property loss and medical bills. However, depending on the accident’s circumstances, you may be eligible for an additional form of compensation called punitive damages. A personal injury lawyer in Laramie and Gillette, Wyoming, can determine what you are owed and help you receive the appropriate compensation.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are funds awarded to the accident victim separate from the damages they receive for their property damage or injury. Punitive means “inflicting punishment,” and damages are the funds given to a victim to compensate for injury or property loss. If the person at fault for the accident, also referred to as the defendant, acted without regard for others’ safety, or behaved maliciously, the victim may receive punitive damages.

In addition to providing the victim with more significant compensation, punitive damages punish the offender and discourage them from behaving poorly in the future. To prove that the victim is eligible for punitive damages, their lawyer must provide evidence that the defendant knew their actions would likely cause injury to others and acted anyway. This reckless behavior is also referred to as acting with wanton disregard for the safety of others.

Scenarios Often Awarded Punitive Damages

Aggravated Battery and Assault

In Laramie, Wyoming, aggravated battery and assault occur when an individual knowingly attempts to inflict severe physical harm on another, with little regard for the value of human life. Aggravated battery and assault can be committed with or without a weapon. Threatening someone with a deadly weapon for purposes other than self-defense may also fall into this category.

In addition, intentionally causing physical harm to a pregnant woman constitutes aggravated battery and assault as well. For punitive damages to be awarded in aggravated battery and assault cases, the action typically has to be highly offensive or damaging to the victim. In addition, violence that leaves the victim with disfigurement or ongoing medical issues is more likely to result in the defendant paying punitive damages.

Drunk or Distracted Driving

Drivers who injure someone while operating a vehicle in a drunk or distracted state may be forced to pay punitive damages and compensate the victim for injury and property damage. Driving while intoxicated or performing other tasks such as texting is reckless behavior that puts the lives of everyone on the road at risk.

As a result, drivers who injure someone while operating commercial vehicles are often required to pay significant punitive damages to the victim. Juries will often award punitive damages to punish the driver for their behavior and make an example of the driver to deter other individuals from behaving similarly.

Fraud

Fraudulent behavior frequently results in punitive damages being given to the victim because fraudulent behavior involves knowingly harming the victim. Even if the defendant was not committing fraud with the express intention of harming the victim, they knew that the victim would be injured and proceeded anyway. Since most fraud cases have a financial element, requiring the defendant to pay punitive damages is viewed as deterring them from future fraudulent acts.

Corporate Carelessness

When corporations behave recklessly, punitive damages may be awarded if the victim’s personal injury lawyer can prove the company wantonly disregarded the safety of their customers. One of the most famous cases that involved punitive damages is the Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants Case. Also known as the “Hot Coffee Lawsuit,” Liebeck was a passenger in a parked car when coffee spilled on her, leaving her with severe third-degree burns.

At the time of the case, McDonald’s was serving their coffee at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cups had no warning. The jury awarded Liebeck three million dollars in punitive damages, as they believed McDonald’s showed a callous lack of concern for the safety of their customers. As coffee that hot can cause third-degree burns in seconds, the jury determined that failing to warn customers of the potential for scalding was unconscionable.

High Profile Defendant

If the defendant is famous or significantly wealthy, punitive damages may be awarded to make an example out of the case. Cases with high-profile defendants often have media coverage, meaning the public will know of the defendant’s action and the punitive damages awarded.

In addition to discouraging the defendant from committing the act again, punitive damages also deter other individuals from attempting similar behaviors as they see the potential consequences. Punitive damages are often awarded in cases where a celebrity injures an individual through reckless behaviors or malice.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

The most commonly awarded damages in personal injury cases are compensatory damages. By providing the victim with reimbursement for the costs associated with their accident, compensatory damages help prevent victims from being left holding the bill due to someone else’s carelessness. Two types of compensatory damages may apply to your case.

Special Compensatory Damages

Special compensatory damages are also called economic damages. In cases where you are injured, this compensation covers medical bills, physical therapy bills, medications, and expenses relating to care. If you missed work due to the injury, your missed wages would also fall into this category.

In cases where the property was damaged, special compensatory damages would be awarded to pay for the repair or replacement of the property. If the accident prevented you from taking a scheduled trip, you might also be able to receive reimbursement for any fees associated with the canceling of your plans. Working with an experienced lawyer in Gillette, Wyoming is essential if you want to receive the maximum compensation for your accident.

General Compensatory Damages

When you are injured in an accident, not all your losses are easy to quantify. However, general compensatory damages exist to reimburse you for injuries that didn’t come with a bill. Pain and suffering fall into this category and refer to physical, mental, and emotional distress. Chronic pain resulting from your injury, mental anguish, and emotional suffering deserve compensation, but they can be challenging to prove.

Decreased quality of life, inconvenience, and physical impairment all qualify for this type of compensation. Understanding general compensatory damages can be confusing, and you may struggle with determining if your situation allows for reimbursement. Contacting a personal injury lawyer is your best option, as they can build a case that proves the validity of your general compensatory damages.

Work With a Personal Injury Lawyer in Laramie and Gillette, Wyoming

While most claims don’t qualify for punitive damages, ones that do will require the victim and their legal representation to prove that the defendant was wantonly negligent or reckless. If the defendant was malicious and acted with disregard for the law, the court may decide to award you punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.

Alternatively, even if you think your case only qualifies for compensatory damages, you’ll want to work with a lawyer to ensure you receive the reimbursement you are owed. Don’t try to handle your personal injury claim alone. At Ochs Law Firm, we research every detail of your case and pursue the compensation you deserve. Contact Ochs Law Firm today, and we will stand with you until justice is served.

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Jason E. Ochs

Jason began his legal career in 2002 with a national multi-district litigation law firm in Newport Beach, California. There he worked on a variety of high-profile, complex-litigation projects including pharmaceutical and medical-device litigation across the country.

The Ochs Law Firm epitomizes professionalism and commitment to all of our clients, regardless of the size of the case or the might of the Defendant. We practice in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and California in personal injury litigation, medical malpractice, defective products, class action lawsuits, Qui Tam lawsuits, litigation across multiple districts, bad faith insurance, and civil litigation.

We look forward to providing top quality service and representation for you and your family.