What Plaintiffs Need to Know About Punitive Damages

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When you’re injured or suffer illness through no fault of your own, the law provides the means for you to receive financial compensation through both compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are designed to “make whole” or correct the damages you have suffered as much as possible. The amount of compensatory damages is based primarily on the extent of your injuries. Punitive damages, however, often have little relationship to the extent of your injures and much to do with your conduct before and after the incident in question.

Personal Injury Cases

Punitive Damages Defined

Punitive damages are awarded when, in the opinion of the court, the defendant willfully acted negligently. Willful negligence does not mean that the defendant intended to cause you harm – that sort of conduct falls under the category of criminal behavior. Instead, punitive damages result through carelessness or neglect. A classic example of negligence is when an automobile company knows that the design of its cars is faulty but fails to attempt to correct the design flaws. If the car is involved in an accident and someone is injured or killed as a result, the automobile manufacturer will likely be on the hook for punitive damages.

Comparative Negligence

Many states gauge whether the defendant is entirely at fault, or if the plaintiff bears any part of the blame. The comparative negligence standard measures how much blame to assign to each party. Using the example listed above, if the plaintiff had reason to believe that his or her car design was faulty but did nothing about it, the court may rule that the plaintiff was ten percent responsible for the damages caused by the accident, and reduce the amount of punitive damages charged to the automobile maker accordingly.

Contributory Negligence

In a handful of states, if the plaintiff is found to bear any fault in causing the incident, the court may rule that the plaintiff showed contributory negligence. In such cases, the amount of punitive damages charged to the defendant can be reduced dramatically. In extreme cases, plaintiffs may not even be able to collect compensatory damages. For instance, in the example listed above, if the plaintiff was located in a state that used the contributory negligence standard, the court may let the automobile manufacturer off the hook for punitive damages – or throw the case out of court altogether – because of the negligent conduct of the plaintiff.

Failure to Mitigate Damages

Failure to mitigate damages represents another potential pitfall for plaintiffs in personal injury cases. Courts generally expect plaintiffs to attempt to reduce the amount of harm caused to them by the negligent acts of others. For instance, for a plaintiff injured in an accident like the one described above, refusing to see a doctor would likely cause the courts to rule that he or she failed to mitigate the damages of the accident, and reduce the amount of damages rewarded as a result.

Conclusion

No court expects plaintiffs to have psychic abilities to predict injuries or super powers to prevent them. However, following common sense guidelines can insure that you collect the maximum damages possible if you suffer an injury trough the negligence of others. If something seems wrong before you suffer harm, try to correct it. If you’ve already been injured, do what you can to minimize the extent of your injuries.

Aaron Hubbard is a retired paralegal living in the Northeast. He now spends his days sharing his know-how by blogging on the Internet. For more useful information, visit the website of San Diego personal injury lawyer Nadrich & Cohen, LLP.

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