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Determine How Much Money Your Punitive Damages Are Worth: Six Factors
Accidents can change your life forever. You might find it hard to enjoy life the same way again. You may not be able to back to work again. You can even experience ongoing pain and suffering. We work with victims of personal injuries. Their harms come from car crashes, bad surgeries, product malfunctions, and other scenarios.
They share some things in common though. One thing they share is damages. Each victim will no doubt have losses through no fault of their one. They came from the defendant’s misconduct. You can recover for these in court. There are different kinds of damages. Some are economic (which we discuss in this article here). Others are non-economic (which you can read about here). Yet, some damages are totally different in nature. They’re awarded for the level of the defendant’s conduct. We call these punitive damages. Now, we’ll discuss how you can determine what your punitive damages may be worth.
What are Punitive Damages?
Some damages aim to repay plaintiffs for things lost. These compensate for missed wages, medical bills, damaged property and so on. Other damages try to fix a victim’s quality of life. Maybe the person suffered a disability or scar, and this had a negative impact on their sense of life. If so, damages can repay for some of that.
Punitive damages differ from these. They’re an attempt by the court to punish the defendant. Also, they fix to deter others from trying something similar. They’re often referred to as exemplary damages. That makes sense because of the example the court is trying to set. To receive these, defendants must act with extreme recklessness or actual malice. Illinois’ jury instructions provide for these damages in section 35.01.
“In addition to compensatory damages, the law permits you under certain circumstances to award punitive damages. If you find that Defendant's name conduct was fraudulent/intentional/willful and wanton and proximately caused injury/damage to the plaintiff, and if you believe that justice and the public good require it, you may award an amount of money which will punish Defendant's name and discourage it/him/her and others from similar conduct.” 35.01 Punitive/Exemplary Damages--Willful and Wanton Conduct.
Now that you know what punitive damages are, let’s talk about when you get them!
When can I get Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages might be a big source of recovery. Yet, you can’t always get them. For example, Illinois doesn’t let victims of medical or legal negligence recover them. Also, you can’t get punitive damages for a contract breach, corporate error, or if the victim dies. So when can you get punitive damages? Typically, if the person suffers a bodily injury or property loss and the defendant’s conduct is seen as unreasonably wanton or egregiously negligent. Illinois law provides three questions to help guide this analysis.
- How reprehensible was [(defendant's name)] conduct?
- What actual and potential harm did defendant's conduct cause to the plaintiff in this case?
- What amount of money is necessary to punish defendant and discourage defendant and others from future wrongful conduct in light of defendant's financial condition?
When using these questions, consider the specific facts and circumstances. Take special thought to factor in the victim’s vulnerability, defendant’s strengths, and the duration/severity of the harm. Here are some examples that usually qualify for punitive damages.
- A car travelling 80 mph in a 40-mph zone hits a bystander in a crosswalk.
- A man drunkenly operating a construction crane lets objects fall out of it and hit a bicyclist.
- A man throws an elderly person to the ground then punches and kicks him without any provocation.
How do You get Punitive Damages?
We’ve reviewed what punitive damages are and when you can get them. Now, we’d like to explain how you get them. You can’t always recover for them. They are not an independent claim. You must first have actual damages-bodily, financial, etc. Then, you must show the conduct was willful and wanton. Also, justice must require the punishment of the defendant through punitive damages. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a high standard too. You must do all of this with clear and convincing evidence. 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05(b). This means through court, discovery, depositions, and other means, your lawyer must do a very good job. There can’t be any doubt about the outrageousness nature of the conduct or the need for punitive damages. You must artfully use law and fact to make your case. You must present your story as leading to no other conclusion than this.
The Facts About Punitive Damages
Plaintiffs may obtain damages for punitive or compensatory reasons. The latter compensates them for economic and other harms. The former punishes defendants for excessive negligence. They’re meant to stop others from doing the same thing! Take a look at these important facts about punitive damages.
- Plaintiffs try to get punitive damages more than 10% of the time.
- Some types of cases see more requests for punitive damages. These include conversion, libel, slander, and intentional torts.
- When plaintiffs win civil cases, they get punitive damages about 5% of the time.
- The median punitive damage award hovers around $50,000/$60,000.
- Plaintiffs get more than $1,000,000 in punitive damages about 10% of the time.
- Punitive damages exceed compensatory damages by a factor of three on average.
- Many cases with punitive damages are appealed. Thus, some plaintiffs see their awards reversed or reduced.
6 Factors That Determine Your Punitive Damages
Many reasons might spur you to file a suit. Yet, only 6 factors shape your punitive damages award. Review them now.
- The nature of your injuries.
- The unreasonableness of the defendant’s conduct.
- The comparative strength of the defendant to you.
- Your change in life following the event.
- Your compensatory damages.
- The defendant’s resources.
These indicators are great in theory. But you might find it hard applying them to your case. In the next section, we show you how you can take these and estimate your own punitive damages.
How do I Calculate my Punitive Damages?
How do I estimate my punitive damages award? This might seem daunting, but the factors above should help you get started. First, start with your actual damages. Add up all those things like medical costs, lost income, and damaged property. This forms a base of recovery. Usually, punitive damages is this result times a number between 1 and 5. The more you have the other factors present (i.e. very unreasonably conduct, blameless victim, long-term damage, etc.) the closer you get to 5. Then, to strengthen your case, analogize to other cases. Find lawsuits with similar fact patterns and injuries. Show how you deserve the same or amount punitive damages. Calculating your punitive damages award is part math and part creative. You need to summon both to effectively predict what you’ll get. Every case is part what you make of it. Keep in mind though, some states cap punitive damages. For instance, Illinois law says you can’t get more than 3 times your economic damages.
“The amount of punitive damages that may be awarded for a claim in any civil action subject to this Section shall not exceed 3 times the amount awarded to the claimant for the economic damages on which such claim is based.” 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05.
So, remember this ceiling when calculating your punitive damages. There is still a lot of room to work with though. Also, a competent lawyer can help you in that task. We go over just how next!
How can a Lawyer Protect my Punitive Damages?
The central task of your lawyers will be to understand and highlight your story. They need to examine the incident, its effect, and its meaning. This can be done in part by painting you as a good character and the defendant as a bad one. But that’s not all!
In the meantime, they need to be proactive. They should organize a case file. This must include all materials needed to prove your bills, injuries, and other harms. It might involve a fair amount of investigation and record collection. Many lawyers meet witnesses, talk to doctors, and visit the scene. By doing all of this, your legal team will protect your punitive damages. The storytelling will maximize it. So, let’s about that now.
Picture the jury like an audience. It needs to be able to follow the events of your case. It should end up at the conclusion you so desire. This means your lawyers need to craft a trail. They must use their opening arguments, examinations, evidence, and closing arguments to this effect. They’re all tools at your disposal. Of course, the defendant will try to do the same. This is why experience matters. A seasoned lawyer can turn an opponent’s points against. And they should too! The whole point of trial is to maximize the amount of damages you may receive. Otherwise, you should settle. We’ve done this for many clients. To hear about how we can maximize your punitive damages, give us a call!
Resources for Punitive DamagesSample jury instructions. Sample statutory definition. More info and stats on punitive damages.
Hire a Team That Will Fight for You!
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers represents victims of injuries. We can show you how to obtain all kinds of damages. Punitive damages might be your biggest source of recovery. To figure out what you might get, give us a call. Someone from our team will speak to about what your compensation might be. Plus, we’ll show you what you need to do to get it. Don’t wait! Contact us today! We’ll fight for your rights from the start!
Learn about other damages you can obtain. Read the following articles.