Punitive Damages 101


In the context of a lawsuit, damages are an award, usually consisting of money, meant to compensate the injured plaintiff for his injury or loss. When considering filing a lawsuit, it is important to evaluate your injuries and what your injuries cost you monetarily, physically and mentally.

Types of Damages

There are two main categories of damages a plaintiff may receive when he prevails in a suit: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages, also referred to as actual damages, reimburse the plaintiff for tangible losses, such as medical bills or lost wages, and also for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering or potential future lost wages. The main purpose of these damages is to try to put the plaintiff back in the position he or she would be in had the injury never occurred. Although there is no amount of money that will replace a loved one or rid emotional grief, compensatory damages is usually the only remedy the justice system can offer.

The second type of damages that may be awarded are known as punitive damages, which go above and beyond the plaintiff’s provable injuries. Punitive damages are designed to punish and deter improper conduct with the hope that such punishment will prevent a person or corporation from injuring someone else in the future. Punitive damages are mostly awarded in personal injury tort cases when the defendant’s conduct is deemed particularly egregious or outrageously careless. Courts intend for punitive damages to have retributive and deterrent effects on defendants.

Over the last couple of decades, the Supreme Court has heard several cases in which it analyzed when it was appropriate to award punitive damages, and whether large punitive damage awards violated the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court has held that for punitive damages to be constitutional, the award must be reasonably related to the plaintiff’s injury. The Court held that punitive damages are not allowed to penalize a defendant for harm to people not party to the lawsuit. A defendant should only have to pay punitive damages in regard to this specific plaintiff’s injuries.

When Can You Seek Punitive Damages?

When you file a lawsuit, the attorneys at Solnick & Associates, LLC will evaluate the facts of your case and determine whether you should ask for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. If the defendant’s actions were obviously careless or outrageous, you will likely be able to seek punitive damages. Some states place a limit on the amount and types of damages that an injured person can receive after a successful personal injury trial. Pennsylvania law prohibits the limitation of actual damages in cases involving injury and death. As for punitive damages, the state’s constitution places a cap, which is set at two times the amount of actual (compensatory) damages.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys. Our goal is to secure the best possible outcome in your case.  Contact our office for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights at 215-481-9979.

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