An Award of Punitive Damages Is a Rare Remedy Available to Plaintiffs In Civil Proceedings

The vast majority of personal injury cases involve claims for compensatory damages, which compensate the plaintiff with sufficient money to cover the amount of injury/loss. In Illinois accident cases, damages are awarded for medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are awarded in a tiny percentage of civil cases that go to trial, and courts apply punitive damages in roughly 5% of verdicts. 

Punitive Damages Are Designed to Punish Behavior and Set an Example 

Punitive damages serve as a punishment for conduct that’s considered flagrantly negligent or intentional. They’re intended to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct that gave rise to the lawsuit. Thus, the aim isn’t to compensate the grieving party but to teach the defendant a lesson. Compensatory damages don’t encompass the aggravated nature of the injury to a plaintiff. 

Punitive damages are awarded in extreme circumstances. The defendant must pay the designated amount of money and give it to the plaintiff. In almost all cases, insurance won’t cover for punitive damages attributable to the direct wrongful conduct of the insured defendant. Individuals aren’t able to insure their criminal behavior. 

Wrongdoers deserve punishment beyond the imposition of compensatory damages. As a result, punitive damages are awarded to deter reckless conduct. Punitive damages help preserve public order by providing the injured party with a substitute for revenge. People are willing to forego it if they receive monetary compensation. Comparative fault doesn’t offer punitive damages. Exemplary damages may be awarded in cases involving comparative fault. 

Punitive Damages Are Appropriate Only in Certain Circumstances 

All states, with a few exceptions, allow punitive damages in tort cases. The difference between tort and negligence is that tort occurs when someone acts on purpose. An individual who suffers a personal injury due to someone’s tortious act can sue for damages. Examples include medical malpractice when a physician deviates from the accepted norms of practice and causes an injury to the patient. 

A plaintiff seeking punitive damages is compelled to meet a higher standard of proof than would be normally required. Simply put, they must provide clear and compelling evidence. This involves complicated medical documents, reports, and expert opinions. This is why it’s important to seek legal advice. 

In Michigan, punitive damages aren’t allowed to punish defendants. Nonetheless, exemplary damages are permitted for despicable behavior on the part of the defendant. They’re awarded to compensate for the plaintiff’s mental anguish, outrage, humiliation, or increased injury. The law in Michigan is unusually complex. 

According to Michigan Personal Injury Attorney Mike Morse Injury law firm, the non-existence of punitive damages enables people to continue to break the law and put profit over the well-being of others. They get away with behavior that results in serious injury or death. Michigan doesn’t recognize the concept of punitive damages. 

What Is the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages? 

Compensatory damages take center stage in a personal injury claim. Money is awarded to the plaintiff to compensate for damage, injury, or other loss incurred. If you were hurt in a car crash and had to miss work for weeks at an end and sustained damage to your vehicle, you could receive compensatory damages for medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. They don’t have a predetermined dollar amount tied to them. 

Quite the contrary, punitive damages aren’t meant to give back the injured party something they’ve lost. They’re meant to penalize the at-fault party. Punitive damages are awarded din cases such as: 

  • Class action lawsuits where several people are hurt 
  • Medical malpractice claims
  • Cases where the plaintiff was seriously injured

The main difference between compensatory and punitive damages is that they’re aimed at different parties of the civil claim. Punitive damages can be awarded in any personal injury case. 

The Amount of Punitive Damages Is Left To The Jury’s Discretion 

The jury awards are highly unpredictable. Even so, plaintiffs demanding higher damages awards ask for a jury trial. They’re convinced they’ll get an even more significant award if heard by a jury. Jurors are instructed to take into consideration both the objective and subjective factors of the case.

The judge may reduce the punitive damages award if the jury hasn’t followed the instructions. They have to listen to the facts in the court action and decide if the person is guilty or not guilty, or if a claim has been proved. The jury has to assign a reasonable amount of punitive damages based on the defendant’s financial situation. 

Punitive damages awards tend to be modest, contrary to popular opinion. More often than not, they’re subject to judicial review, which results in reduced punitive damages awards. Cases in which punitive damages are ten times more than the actual damages (compensatory damages) are unconstitutional. It’s not like what you see in the movies. 

The question now is: How much is enough? Well, it depends. It’s necessary to consider the character of the defendant’s misconduct, the nature and the extent of the plaintiff’s injury, and the financial situation of the defendant. Research has revealed that jurors downplay or ignore instructions, so the wealth of the defendant is associated with large punitive damages. 

Are Punitive Damages Available in Your Case? 

There’s a limited opportunity to bring punitive damages. Nevertheless, if you were involved in a situation where someone acted in a wanton manner, you may be entitled to financial compensation in the form of punitive damages. It’s advisable to speak to a personal injury attorney with experience in helping victims recover damages from reckless individuals. 

Punitive damages are available if you’re able to demonstrate that the defendant’s acts meet the criteria under the law. You must prove gross negligence. Compensatory damages aren’t capped in Illinois, but the collateral source rule applies. The benefits received by a plaintiff from a source other than the wrongdoer in a personal injury action don’t diminish the damages they can otherwise recover. 

Many states have created varying rules when it comes to the scope and applicability of the collateral source rule. In Michigan, for example, it has been abolished in part by statute. Please consult the Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 600.6303.  

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