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What are punitive damages?

by | Apr 11, 2022 | Car Accidents

In this blog, we recently discussed the types of damages that auto accident victims can seek in Kentucky and Ohio. The law broadly groups how injuries suffered in a crash can affect your life into two categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages.

We also mentioned a third type of compensation called punitive damages. This type of compensation is reserved for cases where the defendant’s conduct was especially egregious or reckless. The purpose of punitive damages is less to compensate the victim than to punish the defendant for bad behavior. When a jury awards punitive damages, they send a message to the defendant that having to pay regular compensation is not enough to make up for what they did. Punitive damages frequently occur when corporations turn a blind eye or consciously disregard human life.

Especially dangerous misconduct

Each state has a different standard for what constitutes punitive damages. In Kentucky, punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant acted “with oppression, fraud, or malice.” In Ohio, punitive damages are awarded when the defendant has a “conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other persons that has a great probability of causing harm.”

Such cases usually involve wrongful death or severe injury to the plaintiff that will cause permanent disability. No type of negligence is guaranteed to lead to punitive damages. Specific injuries where punitive damages are common include drunk driving, distracted driving and speeding.

Limits on punitive damage awards

The United States Supreme Court created a factors test to determine the appropriateness and amount of punitive damages. Each state uses this test, but they have a different standard for what is reasonable.

In Kentucky, there is no cap on punitive damages. Kentucky also lets jurors decide what is appropriate in each case.

Due to tort reform efforts by Ohio lawmakers, punitive damages are currently capped at double the amount of compensatory damages awarded. Suppose a jury awards a plaintiff $100,000 in economic and noneconomic damages. In that case, the jury cannot award more than $200,000 in punitive damages on top of the original award. In addition, if the defendant is an individual or a small business, punitive damages are capped at ten percent of their net worth, up to $350,000.

Whether you have a strong case for punitive damages depends on the particular facts of what happened to you or your loved one. It is something that you can discuss with your attorney