Punitive damages in catastrophic injury casesWhenever a person is injured and a lawsuit is filed, the only available remedy is most often monetary damages. This monetary award comes in the form of compensatory damages, the purpose of which is to reimburse, or compensate, the injured person for the costs associated with the injury they sustained.  The most common types of costs that are reimbursed are medical expenses and property damage. However, in certain situations, a different type of damages is also awarded to punish the person who was at fault. These types of damages are called punitive damages.  Punitive damages in catastrophic injury cases are very common.
What is the purpose of punitive damages?
Punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishing the person who was at fault, for conduct that was either intentional or more than just negligent.  Instead of negligence, the defendant is being punished for being excessively reckless. For example, a driver who is traveling 65 mph in a residential area would clearly be acting recklessly. Another purpose of punitive damages is to deter, or discourage, the defendant and others from engaging in that type of conduct in the future.
Punitive Damages are often associated with catastrophic injuries
Punitive damages are not always appropriate in every case. First, punitive damages are generally only awarded in cases that involve extreme recklessness or intentional conduct. Also, in most cases, a victim will only be awarded punitive damages is they have also been awarded some amount of compensatory damages. This is because the amount of the punitive damages is usually closely associated with the amount of the compensatory damages award. For instance, it is not uncommon for a punitive damages award to be three times the amount awarded for compensatory damages. These amounts always depend on the facts of the case.
There may be limits to Punitive Damages
Many states impose some limitation on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a given case. In fact, many states have passed new laws in an effort to reform punitive damages, primarily because punitive damages are more routinely being requested in civil lawsuits.  Also, when they are awarded, juries have awarded excessive amounts. To lawmakers, this progression has distorted the settlement and litigation processes, resulting in very inconsistent outcomes in what would typically be similar cases.
Punitive Damages in Arkansas
Arkansas’ punitive damages law raised the standard for the type of evidence that must be proven in order to impose punitive damages. The standard is “clear and convincing” evidence of actual fraud, malice, or willful or wanton conduct and charges.  Based on an Arkansas Supreme Court decision, the prior cap on punitive damages in that state has been struck down.
Punitive Damages in Missouri
Missouri’s punitive damages law provides for a separate court proceeding for the determination of punitive damages. Under this law, the jury must first find the defendant(s) liable for punitive damages. Then a separate proceeding is held to determine the amount, based, in part, on evidence of the defendant’s net worth. Missouri also requires that 50% of all punitive damages be paid into a state fund.
If you have questions regarding punitive damages, or any other catastrophic injury issues, call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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