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Nathaniel Fick
Nathaniel Fick
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Punitive Damages Designed to Punish, Not Reimburse

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Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are not intended to compensate a personal injury victim for actual losses suffered. Instead, they are typically awarded for two very specific reasons:

  • To punish the defendant for outrageous behavior involving malice, willful or wanton conduct, or fraud
  • To act as a deterrent against similar conduct

What Conduct Necessitates Punitive Damages?

 In most jurisdictions, a victim must prove that the person or party responsible for their injuries caused them harm as a direct result of committing an act of malice, willful and wanton conduct, or fraud:

  • Malice – A wrongful act committed intentionally to cause harm to someone else without just reason or excuse.
  • Willful or Wanton Conduct – Dangerous and reckless conduct committed purposefully without regard to consequences or the rights and safety of others.
  • Fraud – Intentional deception for personal gain or to intentionally damage another person.

Punitive damages and Personal Injury

Punitive damages are not often awarded in personal injury cases, but an example of an auto accident case that might qualify for a punitive damage award is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing an accident that results in serious or fatal injuries. The rationale for punitive damages in this circumstance is that any reasonable person should know that driving under the influence is a negligent, dangerous, and illegal act that constitutes willful and wanton conduct and places others on the road in serious peril.

Not Everyone Supports Punitive Damages

Those who do not believe in punitive damages typically feel that large exemplary awards are often unfair, unreasonable, and generally do not benefit society. Critics say that the ambiguous standards used to determine whether or not punitive damages are appropriate and the methods used to calculate the awards are often based upon bias, passion, and prejudice rather than on the law itself.