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When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in an Injury Case?

Posted on: January 19, 2022

What is the Cornerstone of Every Personal Injury Claim?

The cornerstone of every personal injury claim is the damages. Most of these lawsuits center around compensatory damages, which are intended to reimburse the victim for direct harm caused by the defendant’s actions.

Compensatory damages include both economic damages like hospital bills, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. In addition to this compensation, a victim may also be able to pursue punitive damages in certain situations. Here’s what to know and how an experienced attorney can help.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages aren’t available in every personal injury case; the circumstances must specifically warrant the penalization of the defendant. These damages are intended to punish extreme negligence or egregious carelessness.

Financial loss is generally an effective way to prevent repeat instances by the defendant, but it also serves to dissuade others from the same. Punitive damages are also sometimes called exemplary damages because they deter the conduct that initially resulted in the harm done.

Examples of Incidents Warranting Punitive Damages

One of the most famous examples of punitive damages being awarded in a personal injury case is the case involving McDonald’s’ hot coffee. In this case, a woman was severely burned because of a cup of coffee that was kept excessively hot and required extensive medical care including multiple skin grafts.

McDonald’s refused to pay the plaintiff’s original settlement request of $20,000 and moved forward with litigation. The court determined that the warning on the cup that the coffee was hot did not suffice and awarded the plaintiff $2.7 million in punitive damages.

The Burden of Proof for Punitive Damages

Because punitive damages have the potential to be so high, the burden of proof is heavy. The plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant acted with extreme negligence or carelessness or knowingly disregarded the safety of others.
In the above example, McDonald’s knew the coffee was too hot. The company keeps it at this temperature to preserve freshness because the cost of paying injury settlements is lower than the cost of discarding stale coffee.

Get Help from an Experienced Chico, CA Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you were injured by someone else’s negligence or blatant disregard for your safety, you may be entitled to compensation, including potentially punitive damages. Consult an experienced Chico personal injury attorney now by calling 530-895-1234. We don’t charge any fees until we win your case.

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