Free Consultation 24 Hour Response
Call Today Local (480) 498-8998
free consultation
no fee unless we win
F(480) 546-5262
Request Free Consultation

What Are Punitive Damages?

Posted on March 31, 2021 in

Punitive damages are an additional financial award granted to plaintiffs in personal injury claims that involve defendants who are guilty of particularly egregious or wrongful acts. Punitive damages are not awarded in every personal injury case, or even in most cases. A judge in Arizona may grant a punitive damage award, however, if the plaintiff’s attorney can prove the victim’s eligibility for this type of compensation.

Defining Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Law

Punitive damages are given in addition to compensatory damages, never as a sole award. They supplement the amount of money granted to a plaintiff for economic and noneconomic losses connected to the accident (compensatory damages). Compensatory damages make up for a victim’s losses through financial reimbursement, while punitive damages punish a defendant.

Punitive damages are also referred to as exemplary damages. This is because they are an award meant to serve as a warning or deterrent to a defendant. If a plaintiff receives punitive damages during a personal injury claim in Arizona, the purpose of this award is to deter the defendant from committing the same or similar acts in the future. Punitive damages are generally only available in cases where a defendant has acted in a truly egregious fashion.

Who Qualifies for Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are not frequently awarded to plaintiffs in Arizona. They are reserved for cases involving particularly heinous or egregious actions committed by a defendant. A judge or jury will only award punitive damages when it is believed they are warranted to punish a defendant or set a public example. In Arizona, a judge may grant a request for punitive damages if a plaintiff can show a defendant acted with one of the following:

  • Gross negligence
  • Egregious misconduct
  • Recklessness
  • Wanton disregard for the safety of others
  • Indifference to the rights of others
  • Maliciousness
  • Knowing and willful wrongdoing
  • Intent to harm
  • Fraud or deceit
  • The goal of oppression

Examples of personal injury cases in Arizona that could result in punitive damage awards are drunk driving car accidents, acts of violence, sexual assault, medical malpractice, insurance bad faith, a mass tort with a large number of victims and wrongful death claims. If you are curious whether or not you qualify for punitive damages in your particular injury claim,  a Queen Creek personal injury attorney at Stone Rose Law can help you review your case and estimate its value.

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?

It is difficult to estimate how much you could receive in punitive damages in Arizona, as the amount awarded to a plaintiff in punitive damages is up to the court’s discretion. The courts can assign any amount it deems appropriate based on the facts of the case. Generally, a judge or jury will determine the value of a punitive damage award based on factors such as:

  • The nature or reprehensibility of the defendant’s actions
  • The amount of compensatory damages awarded
  • The extent of the plaintiff’s injury, disability and losses
  • Whether the defendant’s actions resulted in fatalities
  • The defendant’s ability to pay punitive damages
  • The amount awarded in punitive damages in comparable cases

In general, a punitive damage award must be reasonably proportionate to the actual damages suffered by the plaintiff. If a plaintiff only suffered minor damages, therefore, the plaintiff may be eligible for only a modest punitive award (or none at all), even if the defendant was guilty of egregious wrongdoing. If, however, the plaintiff suffered a catastrophic injury, he or she would be more likely to receive a sizable punitive award.

Is There a Cap on Punitive Damages in Arizona?

Although many states place caps, or limitations, on the amount of punitive damages available in a personal injury case, Arizona does not. Damage caps go against Arizona’s State Constitution. General guidelines in most jurisdictions, however, find that punitive damages cannot exceed four times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to a plaintiff. An attorney can help you estimate how much you might receive – if any – in punitive damages based on the facts of your case.

For more information about punitive damages in Arizona, consult with a personal injury lawyer today.