Oftentimes, when an individual successfully pursues a personal injury claim, the only damages they receive are compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are meant to recompense a plaintiff for losses (economic or otherwise) resulting from their accident and injuries. However, if a judge or jury determines that a defendant was particularly egregious in your case, you may also be awarded punitive damages.
Also called “exemplary damages,” punitive damages are meant to punish an individual or entity or deter others from the same conduct. The award is meant to make an example of the defendant, which often serves as legal president for future similar cases.
Punitive damages may not be frequently awarded simply because it is often difficult to prove that a defendant acted with particular malice. They are awarded, however, when someone is particularly reckless and leads to injury or harm.
For instance, when a manufacturer produces or distributes a particularly dangerous product that eventually brings harm to consumers or fails to properly warn of the product's inherent danger, it doesn't necessary mean they were egregious or outrageous in bring the product to market. Punitive damages are typically awarded only when the actions of the manufacturer were particularly egregious or neglectful (i.e., attorneys can show that the manufacturer knew that an over the counter cough medicine was particularly dangerous when combined with another commonly used cold medicine and failed to warn consumers in packaging and/or marketing). And even then, the award is by nature subjective.
The amount of punitive damages awarded typically hinge on the nature of the misconduct in relation to the financial wealth enjoyed by the defendant. For instance, in a defective products case where the manufacturer is a large pharmaceutical company, the award may actually be larger than one awarded as a result of a claim filed against a new, smaller company. A large, multi-million dollar award could potentially bankrupt a smaller company, while the same award might disrupt the finances of the former in such a way as to send a clear message. The punishment is typically proportionate to the defendant's misconduct and their financial capacity to sustain the award. There are limits set in cases where punitive damages are sought.
It's important to document all of the damages in your case. This increases the potential value of your award. It's also to document all of your related expenses, even those for which you have already been (or will be) reimbursed. Medical bills, lost wages and other expenses that are advanced to you may be requested by the appropriate party (medical insurer or employer) after you have received your award, should you win your case (this is known as a subrogation claim).
Needless to say, there are a lot of issues swirling around punitive damages in personal injury cases. It's important to have the proper representation by an experienced personal injury attorney. If you have questions about filing a personal injury claim, call the skilled attorneys of Panio Law Offices in Chicago. We offer a wealth of experience in fighting for our clients and winning the highest awards for those who have been injured. Call us today at (312) 313-0305. We can help!