Punitive Damages Definition

Judges award punitive damages, or exemplary damages, in an effort to deter both the defendant and others from acting in a similar manner again in the future. In this way, punitive damages, by definition, serve as a sort of punishment for the liable party in a personal injury lawsuit.

In almost every personal injury case where the injured party receives a payout, they collect damages that include money to cover their medical care, lost wages, property damage, and other related losses. They may also receive compensation for their pain and suffering. Punitive damages, like economic damages awarded in a case, generally go to the victim. Punitive damages are rare and are not typically available through out-of-court settlements.

What Is the Purpose of Punitive Damages?

Judges use punitive damages to show the type of conduct the defendant engaged in was not appropriate and to dissuade others from doing the same in the future. When others in a similar industry or who engage in the same activities as the liable party see the published totals of the punitive damages in a case, the large payout amount can serve as an example of what can happen if they act in a reckless manner.

What Does the Law Say About Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania?

The laws outlining punitive damages vary widely from state to state. Some states allow judges to use their discretion for when to award them and to determine the amount. Others have strict laws and limits. In Pennsylvania, a judge can award an accident victim punitive damages if the liable party acted in a malicious, wanton, or willful way and this caused their injuries.

Imagine a product manufacturer knew about a defect in their product that caused severe injuries to users. However, they refused to admit there was a problem and took no action to remove the product from store shelves or even add a warning label. The judge sees this as a willful act, and holds the company fully responsible for the victim’s injuries. The judge might order a large punitive damage award in this case, punishing the manufacturer for their bad behavior and encouraging other companies to pay more attention to the safety of their products.

When Does the Court Award Punitive Damages?

There are a number of factors a judge considers when determining whether to award punitive damages and the value of this award. These include:

  • How maliciously, wantonly, or willfully the defendant acted;
  • Any similar cases against the same defendant or involving similar products; and
  • The severity of the victim’s injuries or financial losses.

In general, the court is more likely to award damages—at a higher value—if:

  • The victim requires ongoing care or suffered a permanent injury;
  • The defendant acted in a particularly offensive manner; or
  • The defendant acted intentionally.

Are There Limits on Punitive Damages?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages cannot be too disproportionate to the other types of damages awarded in a case. In Pennsylvania, this is generally interpreted to be two times the amount of the victim’s other damages.

Berger and Green: Fighting For Your Full Recovery

If a negligent party acted in a particularly heinous manner and caused your injuries, the personal injury attorneys at Berger and Green may be able to push for punitive damages in your case. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to schedule a complimentary consultation.