After being involved in a serious car accident, I really believed that my insurance company would take care of everything. It wasn't until I finally received their settlement offer that I realized they were not on my side at all. This is when I got wise and consulted a personal injury lawyer. It was the best decision I could have made. Thanks to my attorney, not only did I learn a lot about personal injury law, but I actually got the compensation that I needed and deserved. I made a lot of mistakes after my accident, but I also learned a lot along the way. It is my hope that this blog will allow other accident victims to learn from common mistakes and get the information they need to be successful in their own personal injury claims.
Punitive damages have received a great deal of attention in recent years due to several high profile cases. In 2014, a Florida widow was awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages from a tobacco manufacturer for the loss of her husband and the company's role in his death. Before you can go after punitive damages, it is important that you understand what they are and why a jury awards them.
What Are Punitive Damages?
In personal injury cases, there are several types of damages you can sue for. For instance, general damages are designed to cover the cost of medical expenses and other injuries for which an exact figure can be calculated.
On the other hand, punitive damages do not involve exact calculations. The damages awarded are considered a financial punishment for negligence on behalf of a defendant.
In the case involving the Florida widow, the cigarette manufacturer was financially penalized for deliberately putting cancerous and addictive cigarettes on the market. The jury felt that the cigarette manufacturer had committed gross negligence.
What Is Gross Negligence?
Gross negligence is key when it comes to punitive damages. When a defendant's acts are so reckless that a disregard for the life and safety of others is present, this is considered gross negligence.
In the cigarette case, the cigarette manufacturer committed gross negligence by knowingly harming smokers without regard for their lives and health. In the eyes of the jury, the manufacturer was only concerned with making a profit.
The award of punitive damages of $23.6 billion was to punish the cigarette manufacturer for its negligence, but also to deter it from committing such acts again.
Can You Ask for Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are not automatically added to personal injury cases. In fact, they are considered to be rare awards. This does not mean you and your trial attorney cannot be awarded punitive damages.
Your attorney will need to show that the defendant acted in a particularly reckless fashion and this led to your injuries and damages. For instance, if you were hit by a drunk driver, your attorney could argue that by drinking and driving, the defendant knowingly showed disregard for the safety of others.
If a jury agrees, it can award an amount that it deems necessary. There are no set guidelines to ascertain how much damages should be.
In the event that your case could possibly receive punitive damages, your attorney will discuss the probability with you. The attorney will also help assess what other damages you could