While a personal injury lawsuit is intended to get you compensation for financial and personal losses that you have suffered due to your injuries, injury victims might also be awarded another type of compensation called punitive damages. Only awarded in certain cases, punitive damages are not meant to compensate an injured victim for some loss but rather to punish the defendant in the lawsuit for their conduct.
If you have a personal injury claim, you need to learn more about whether you might be entitled to punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit.
Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Damages in a personal injury lawsuit fall into two broad categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are meant to provide financial recovery to an injured victim for expenses and losses that they have suffered because of their injuries. Compensatory damages can cover things like:
- Medical bills
- Costs of long-term disability care
- Lost income from missed time from work
- Loss of earning ability because of permanent disabilities
- Physical pain from injuries and medical recovery
- Emotional trauma and distress from the accident and injuries
- Reduction in quality of life because of disabilities or visible scarring/disfigurement
However, punitive damages (also called exemplary damages) do not provide money for any loss sustained by the injured victim. Instead, they are meant to punish a defendant for their conduct and to make an example of them to help dissuade others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
When Might Punitive Damages Be Awarded?
Punitive damages are typically only awarded in rare cases. Personal injury lawsuits arising from “ordinary” acts of negligence, such as running a stop sign or failing to clean up a spill in a grocery store aisle will not support an award of punitive damages. Instead, punitive damages are reserved for cases where a defendant engaged in behavior or conduct that would shock the senses of the public. This includes cases involving:
- Gross negligence or extreme recklessness, involving a defendant’s conscious and intentional disregard of a substantial risk that their actions will cause serious injury to others
- Intentional conduct, or willfully inflicting injury on another person
- Repeated or continuous acts of misconduct, particularly where the defendant had already been warned or disciplined for their misconduct
Punitive damages may be awarded in personal injury cases arising from:
- Physical or sexual assault
- Hit and run accidents
- Drunk driving accidents where the intoxicated driver had a history of DUI convictions
- Product liability where the manufacturer knew its product was defective or unsafe
- Medical malpractice cases where a provider renders care outside of the scope of their practice or treats a patient while intoxicated, or where a patient is severely disfigured or disabled
Pennsylvania Law on Punitive Damages
Under Pennsylvania law, there are certain restrictions and requirements that govern the awarding of punitive damages. These rules include:
- Punitive damages can only be awarded in cases of willful and malicious intent or misconduct, or in cases involving extreme negligence or recklessness that shocks the senses
- Punitive damages cannot be awarded on their own but must be accompanied by an award of compensatory damages
- In medical malpractice cases, punitive damages cannot exceed 200 percent of the total amount of compensatory damages awarded. In addition, 25 percent of the punitive damage award must be paid to the Pennsylvania Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund
Contact a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Case in Pennsylvania
Did you or a loved one sustain serious injuries in Pennsylvania? Don’t let the medical bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at Matzus Law, LLC represent clients injured in Butler, Cranberry Township, Greensburg, Washington, and throughout Pennsylvania. Call (412) 206-5300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 310 Grant St., Suite 3210, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.