What are Punitive Damages?

What are Punitive Damages?

If successful on their claim, the plaintiff is entitled to recover monetary compensation for the harm suffered, known as damages. In certain cases involving intentional wrongful conduct, in addition to monetary damages, the plaintiff may also recover damages intended to punish the defendant and discourage similar conduct in the future. These additional damages are called punitive damages.

The business litigation attorneys of Brown & Charbonneau, LLP have extensive experience in litigating claims for punitive damages. Cases where punitive damages may be awarded include: fraud claims, breach of fiduciary duty, defamation and certain personal injury matters.

Oppression, Fraud or Malice

 A plaintiff who has proven his case is always entitled to the recovery of damages to compensate the actual harm caused by the defendant. However, a plaintiff is never entitled to the recovery of punitive damages. The decision of whether or not to award punitive damages is within the sole discretion of the jury.

Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the plaintiff proves that the defendant was guilty of “oppression, fraud or malice.”

  •  “Malice” means conduct which was intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff, or despicable conduct done with a willful and knowing disregard for the rights or safety of others.
  •  “Oppression” means despicable conduct subjecting the plaintiff to cruel and unjust hardship in knowing disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.
  •  “Fraud” means an intentional misrepresentation or concealment of an important fact by the defendant.

 Clear and Convincing Evidence

In order to be awarded punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove the defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice by clear and convincing evidence. This means a showing of a high probability that the defendant acted with oppression, fraud or malice. This is a higher standard of proof than is required for recovery of damages for compensation of the plaintiff’s actual harm, where the plaintiff must only show it was more likely than not the defendant engaged in the alleged wrongful conduct.

Amount of Punitive Damages

While there is no specific formula for calculating the appropriate amount of a punitive damages award, case law has established certain factors that should generally be considered. These factors include:

  •  Whether the harm caused was physical (as opposed to economic)
  •  Whether the defendant acted with a disregard for the health and safety of others
  •  Whether the plaintiff was financially vulnerable
  •  Whether the defendant’s conduct involved repeated acts or was a single incident
  •  Whether the defendant’s conduct involved trickery or deceit
  •  Whether the amount of punitive damages bears a reasonable relationship to the amount of compensatory damages awarded
  • The wealth of the defendant (in light of the goals to punish and deter future misconduct)

Ultimately, the amount punitive damages awarded, if any, is within the sole discretion of the jury.

Getting Legal Help

Brown & Charbonneau, LLP represents individuals as well as large and small companies in cases involving claims for punitive damages. If you are involved in a punitive damages claim or would like to learn about your rights and how to protect your business, we can provide you with the information you need. Call us today at 714-505-3000 or online to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you.