What Exactly Are Punitive Damages in Relation to Lawsuits?


There are multiple reasons to award damages in cases of personal injury. This is why there are multiple different types of damages. Some damages are awarded to help plaintiffs pay their medical bills or cover a loss of income after the accident, while others may exist to help ease some of the emotional burden. 

However, in extreme cases, damages may also be awarded in order to discourage the kind of negligence that caused the accident in the first place. These damages are called punitive damages, and we’ll break down everything you need to know about them in today’s blog.

Punitive Damages Defined

Punitive damages, sometimes called exemplary damages, are additional damages that can be taken from the defendant to punish them for grievous negligence and to prevent them — and others — from making the same mistake again. A common example of punitive damages is drunk driving cases. 

In most cases, the plaintiff will receive the punitive damage awards, especially if they were directly injured by the defendant. Not every case will call for punitive damages. Punitive damages are primarily awarded in extreme cases. Your attorney can help you assess whether you should pursue punitive damages in your case. 

The Objective Behind Punitive Damages

Compensation will go to the plaintiff in most cases. Punitive damages have less to do with the plaintiff’s injury or loss and more to do with the defendant’s negligence or recklessness that led to their liability. Punitive damages are intended to set an example and punish gross and harmful negligence. 

The hope is that because of the firm punishment, the defendant will change their behavior so that they will be unlikely to commit the same act again. By establishing the possibility of punitive damages, they can also discourage others from making the same mistakes.

Factors Considered When Awarding Punitive Damages

Not every case calls for punitive damages, and punitive damages will not always be the same amount. This is because every accident is different, and there are a variety of factors to consider. 

The two most important considerations, however, come down to the negligence of the victim and the severity of damage — whether that be bodily injury or property damage.

Malicious or Negligent Actions of the Defendant

Here again, you can see why drunk driving is a common example of cases where punitive damages are awarded. The dangers of drunk driving are commonly known. And even buzzed driving has led to horrendous accidents. 

In 2022, an average of 28 people died every day in the U.S. as a result of drunk driving every year. To drink and drive despite this shows gross negligence and a lack of regard for others on the road and can result in punitive damages.

Some extreme medical malpractice cases also lead to punitive damages. While everyone makes mistakes, the mistakes that medical professionals make tend to have grave consequences. If you can prove that a medical professional was acting in bad faith, was grossly negligent, or even malicious in their actions, you may be able to claim punitive damages.

The Severity of Bodily Injuries or Property Damage

The amount of harm done to the plaintiff is also a key factor. While some bodily injuries require some recovery time before the plaintiff can resume their normal life, others can be world-shaking. They might lead to permanent disabilities or disfigurement. Worse still, the injury may also result in eventual death. 

Wrongful death cases in which the defendant was found to be particularly malicious or negligent in their actions are often awarded punitive damages. Property damage makes a difference, too. 

A fender bender car accident, for instance, is a much milder case than a fire that burns down your home. The more severe the bodily injury or property damage, the higher the likelihood that punitive damages might be appropriate.

How Much Is Typically Awarded?

Punitive damages vary from case to case. But Ohio does have certain limitations and caps when it comes to these damages. By law, punitive damages cannot exceed twice the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff. 

Punitive damage awards can also vary depending on the size of the defendant. A small business or an individual, for instance, can only pay as much as or less than 10% of their net worth, and punitive damages cannot exceed $350,000. 

Compensatory Damages vs. Punitive Damages: How They Differ

Compensatory damages are any damages intended to compensate the plaintiff for the injury or property damage that they suffered. These are broken up into economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages cover actual damages for financial things like medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of income, and so on. 

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, seek to ease emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, or loss of enjoyment of life. 

The difference between compensatory damages and punitive damages comes down to the basis for awarding these damages. These damages all directly correlate to the plaintiff’s suffering. So long as the plaintiff can show evidence of their financial or emotional distress and prove that the defendant’s actions or negligence were responsible, they will receive compensatory damages. 

Punitive damages take into account the suffering of the plaintiff but are primarily used to punish the defendant for grossly malicious or negligent actions. The plaintiff will likely receive punitive damages if they were directly injured by the defendant, however.

Contact an Attorney to Discuss Potential Compensation

Your personal injury legal team at The Moore Law Firm will review your case and discuss any potential compensation that you might be able to claim. Every case is different, and we will fight for you to get the compensation you deserve. If that includes punitive damages, we will pursue punitive damages and represent your case to the best of our abilities to get the best possible outcome. 

Is it time to discuss potential compensation in your personal injury case? Contact The Moore Law Firm today to learn more or to schedule a consultation. 

Get in Touch

If you have been injured or have lost a loved one as a result of another person's negligence, you deserve to be fully compensated for your losses. The simple fact is that you should not be forced to pay the price for another person's careless or reckless actions.