In a personal injury claim, most damages are compensatory in nature.
While these damages may not recover a plaintiff physically, they will help the plaintiff become financially whole once again.
Punitive damages, on the other hand, are different.
These damages are designed to punish; hence, the name “punitive.” These damages are awarded in addition to the compensatory damages. More so, they are based solely on the behavior of the defendant.
Understanding Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages
Compensatory damages, also called actual damages, compensate the victim. The amount of compensatory damages is based on the proven losses suffered by the plaintiff. Meaning, the plaintiff can establish these losses by presenting income statements, medical bills, insurance payments, etc.
These are paid by the defendant to cover financial losses and may include:
1. Medical Expenses
Medical expenses can include the cost of hospitalizations, surgeries, ambulance rides and services, prescription medications, medical equipment, rehabilitative therapies, and other medical treatments necessary to help the plaintiff recover from their injury.
2. Lost Wages or Loss of Future Earnings
While the patient is recovering from their injury, they may receive compensation for their lost wages. Lost wages includes any time taken off work to attend appointments, as well as court hearings. If the plaintiff can no longer achieve gainful employment, or they are unable to return to work full-time, the defendant may be required to compensate for their loss of future earnings as well.
3. Special Compensatory Damages
These include monetary expenses that are not as easily calculated as medical costs and lost wages. Special damages can include, but are not limited to emotional distress, permanent disability or disfigurement, funeral costs (in wrongful death claims), pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.
Punitive damages are not based on medical bills or income statements.
Instead, they are designed to punish the defendant for their behavior; therefore, the monetary award is solely based on the acts that led to the accident and injury. The goal of punitive damages is to create an example for the public — showing what can happen if another were to engage in similarly unacceptable conduct.
What Qualifies For Punitive Damages?
In Phoenix personal injury claims, conduct that led to an injury that was grossly negligent or intentional may be eligible for punitive damages. According to the Arizona Bar Association, one the following states of mind must be shown to request punitive damages:
- The defendant had the intent to cause injury; or
- The defendant’s conduct was motivated out of spite; or
- The defendant’s actions were based on a conscious disregard for the substantial risk that their conduct may significantly injure another.
Only a qualified attorney can assess an injury case to determine if it meets the state’s criteria for punitive damages.
Also, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s “evil mind” was the cause of, or contributed to, the injury to the plaintiff. The burden of proof, as with compensatory damages, falls on the plaintiff. The plaintiff must present “clear and convincing” evidence during their case (Arizona Rev. Statute §12-557). They must persuade the jury or judge overseeing the case that the acts were intentional or grossly negligent.
In addition, the burden of proof for punitive damages is much more demanding than that of compensatory damages, but less demanding than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt requirement in criminal cases.
Examples Of Phoenix Personal Injury Claims That May Qualify For Punitive Damages
Punitive damage cases are typically seen in instances of product liability, motor vehicle accidents, and intentional acts.
The defendant must act in a highly reckless manner to meet the criteria of the state for punitive damages. While a driver could cause an accident, being careless or inattentive is not considered grossly negligent.
If, however, that same driver was speeding through a neighborhood to escape the police, they are aware of the risks of speeding in a residential zone. If that driver were to strike a pedestrian in the process, and then also continue to flee (leaving the scene of the crime), they could be considered highly reckless. Not only would that driver face criminal penalties, but they could be held liable for compensatory and punitive damages.
Another instance would be that of a defective drug. If the manufacturer of that medication was aware of a danger, but failed to label that product notifying the consumer of such, they could be considered grossly negligent. This is because the manufacturer was aware of the propensity for injury, ignored that fact, and continued to market and sell their defective product. That behavior goes beyond mere negligence or accidental acts; therefore, it qualifies for punitive damages.
How Punitive Damages Are Calculated
Punitive damages are not capped in the state of Arizona, nor is there a fixed standard for the amount of damages that may be assessed. The amount is left to the discretion of the plaintiff’s attorney, but the amount requested is not always the amount awarded by the judge or jury. Also, the amount awarded must be proportionate to the actual damages. Outrageous punitive awards are unconstitutional and have been reversed by the Supreme Court in the past (such as the case of Philip Morris USA v. Williams).
Also, when requesting punitive damages, the plaintiff’s attorney must consider the defendant’s character of conduct (motives), the nature and extent of the harm caused, and the nature and scope of the defendant’s wealth.
Those who have suffered a catastrophic injury or one that was caused by intentional acts must speak with a Phoenix personal injury attorney immediately. There are limitations as to what types of cases can be awarded punitive damages and some entities, as well as case types, may have strict immunity (Arizona Rev. Statute, Title 12).
Contact the attorneys at Tobler Law to assess the potential for punitive damages. The team at Tobler Law understands the heavy burden of proof requirement set by the state of Arizona, and they can assist victims by helping them exercising their right to seek compensation under the law.
Schedule a consultation with a Phoenix personal injury attorney now by calling 480-898-9700 or by filling out an online contact form.