Can I Win Punitive Damages in a CA Personal Injury Case?

Judges Gavel in Court

If you’ve been injured by another party’s wrongdoing – whether in the form of negligent, reckless, or intentional act or via a defective product – one of the first, if not the first, question you are probably asking yourself is what type of financial compensation is available to you. And that is exactly the question that you should be focused on, as serious injuries can mean years of financial havoc for you and your family. While holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions and deterring future injurious conduct is enormously important, hitting defendants in their pocketbooks is often how this social change comes about. One of the more dramatic and effective ways this type of accountability and deterrence comes about is through the imposition of punitive damages, but it is important for would-be plaintiffs to understand what punitive damages are and when they are available.

Defining Punitive Damages

In some ways, any financial damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit act to “punish” the defendant who must pay them, but there is a key difference between the general damages awarded in an injury suit and punitive damages.

In every personal injury suit (outside of workers’ compensation suits), an injured plaintiff who can prove liability is entitled to recover damages for all medical costs, lost income, and the cost of pain and suffering, which is compensation provided for having to deal with the ongoing pain and mental trauma of the injuries. All of these damages are intended to work together to “make a plaintiff whole” by compensating for the tangible and intangible costs of being injured.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not intended to compensate a plaintiff for the losses he has suffered but rather to punish a defendant from taking reckless or intentional conduct which hurts others. For example, we don’t want manufacturers to willingly overlook serious safety hazards based on the equation that they would only have to pay a certain amount of damages to injured plaintiffs. Thus punitive damages are ordered to deter defendants from making such greedy, dangerous decisions.

When Punitive Damages Are Available

Thus, punitive damages are generally not paid when a defendant made an honest, if unreasonable, mistake due to basic carelessness. Instead, punitive damages are more likely to be awarded in cases where defendants acted recklessly (meaning they acted wrongly in spite of glaring risks) or intentionally to endanger others. Examples of when such damages are paid are when a person intentionally hurts another person (e.g. ramming a victim with one’s car) or when a manufacturer willfully ignores risks to make higher profits off a dangerous product.

Because punitive damages require a strong evidentiary showing and will typically only be awarded when a plaintiff makes a compelling case for recklessness or willfulness, victims of personal injury are encouraged to work with seasoned and experienced personal injury litigators in pursuing their claims.

Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys in the Inland Empire

At McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, our personal injury team – led by by partner Cory Weck, a Marine Corps officer with over 20 years of service to his country and 15 years of experience litigating personal injury cases – has repeatedly won verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients across the Inland Empire in the millions of dollars. Our attorneys understand that the fear, anxiety, and pain that you and your family are going through following a personal injury, and we are dedicated to doing everything we can to help our clients get the help they need. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.

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