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What are Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Claims?

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Categorized as Legal Updates

When someone is injured by another person’s actions, they are entitled to recoup their losses by filing a personal injury claim. A personal injury claim is a lawsuit against another party for damages you sustained. Damages are an essential part of any personal injury lawsuit. Damages refer to the total monetary compensation a person is entitled to receive for having suffered bodily, emotional, or financial harm caused by the negligence of another party. Whoever is at fault and determined to be liable for the harm caused to the victim is responsible for paying for his or her losses.

When a person is injured, several different types of damages could be claimed. The damages that a person may receive depend on the extent of their injuries and other losses and the nature of the accident. Since the types of damages a person may recover are fact-specific, injured victims must talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about their rights and to discuss the value of their potential claim, so they don’t get shortchanged by the insurance company. Speak to a Kansas City attorney who will evaluate the circumstances of your case and fight for you to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Compensatory Damages

Most personal injury cases focus on what is called compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate victims for the actual harm and losses that they have suffered. The legal system’s goal for compensatory damages is to restore the plaintiff, the injured party, to the position they were in before they were injured by the negligence of the defendant. Compensatory damages can be both economic and non-economic. Economic damages refer to ways in which the victim has suffered that can be quantified easily with a monetary value. Plaintiffs in Missouri are entitled to the following categories of economic damages:

  • Medical Expenses
  • Lost Income
  • Property damage claims
  • Travel expenses to medical appointments
  • Extraneous expenses during recovery

On the contrary, non-economic damages refer to ways in which the victim has been harmed by the accident that are not easily quantified in monetary terms. Some examples of non-economic damages that plaintiffs are entitled to recover in Missouri include:

  • Emotional Trauma
  • Loss of Consortium
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of Quality of Life
  • Pain and suffering

Punitive Damages

Wrongful death lawyerIn rare cases, car accident victims may also pursue a claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are only awarded in specific cases where the defendant’s actions are so egregious and especially harmful to the plaintiff. Most lawsuits do not involve punitive damages, but they are awarded on rare occasions.

When punitive damages are awarded, they are in addition to compensatory damages. Cases in which the defendant’s behavior is considered especially harmful, negligent, or dangerous are situations where a plaintiff would typically pursue this type of damage. The damages are received by the plaintiff, although they are considered non-compensatory as they are not intended to reimburse the victim for their injuries or losses.

Instead, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for their particularly harmful behavior and their reckless disregard for the well-being of another person. A subsequent goal of punitive damages is to set an example for others. As such, punitive damages are sometimes referred to as exemplary damages. They are designed to discourage the defendant from acting in this manner in the future and to deter others from engaging in similar misconduct.

Punitive damages are only awarded after a suit has been filed for compensatory damages. They cannot be the only form of compensation pursued in an auto accident case. The amount of punitive damages a plaintiff is entitled to depends on several factors, including:

  • The defendant’s behavior leading up to the accident
  • The defendant’s wealth and assets
  • The potential risk that the defendant will repeat this behavior if not punished
  • Damages suffered by the victim

Missouri allows punitive damages under particular circumstances. The plaintiff must provide clear and convincing evidence that the at-fault driver acted with either an intent to harm others without just cause or behaved with conscious disregard for the safety of others.

 

How Much Can Be Awarded in Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are awarded in proportion to the compensatory damages that a plaintiff incurred. The legal community has determined that excessive punitive damages are unconstitutional. For example, any amount for punitive damages that exceeds a 10:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages is unconstitutional. As such, many states, including Missouri, have codified limitations to what can be awarded for punitive damages. Missouri limits punitive damages to no greater than $500,000 or five times the compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff.

However, these limitations do not apply if the state of Missouri is the one filing a punitive damage claim. These limitations are also disregarded if the defendant pleads guilty or receives a conviction for a felony in a criminal proceeding relating to the same incident. For example, if the defendant is found guilty of criminal charges for their role in the accident, the state’s punitive damages limitations do not apply.

Kansas City Car Accident Attorney

If you were injured in an accident, you may be able to file a personal injury claim against the party that harmed you to recover the damages you’ve incurred. It can be hard to face the challenges of proving negligence on your own. Having an attorney on your side can help you build your case and document proof. Especially if the other party acted with intent or conscious disregard for your safety, pursuing punitive damages is very complex and will require an experienced attorney in this matter. You don’t have to face the fight alone.

The lawyers at Peterson & Associates P.C. can evaluate your case and determine the best course of action so that you receive maximum compensation so that you can move on with your life. Contact our Kansas City personal injury lawyers today to learn more about your legal options. Contact Peterson and Associates P.C. by calling (816) 578-0580 to speak with a Kansas City car accident attorney for a free consultation. Our team of lawyers is standing by to help you.