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What Are Punitive Damages?

By David Boehrer | Posted on November 27, 2019

Punitive damages are designed to punish the wrongdoer. They are typically awarded by the court when a defendant’s behavior is found to be especially egregious.

Recovering Punitive Damages

Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are not awarded as compensation for injuries, but rather as a punishment for a particularly harmful act. Punitive damages are typically awarded by the court to punish a defendant for his/her actions and deter other people from engaging in similar actions.

The court often awards punitive damages if compensatory damages are deemed inadequate to cover a plaintiff’s injury costs. Under tort law, punitive damages are typically awarded only in special cases, because they exceed the amount of a plaintiff’s provable injuries. To approve punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant engaged in willful and intentional misconduct.

Typically, punitive damages are only awarded in medical malpractice, product liability, and personal injury lawsuits. They are not usually awarded in contract disputes, except in cases that involve insurance bad faith where an insurer breaches a contract. Since insurance policies imply a covenant of good faith and fair dealing by the insurance company, a breach of this covenant is considered to be a tort cause of action where punitive damages may apply. In such cases, punitive damages may exceed the amount of the insurance policy.

In Nevada, injury victims usually receive economic damages and non-economic damages:

  • Economic Damages – Includes compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, property damages, and in some cases, future medical expenses and future lost income.
  • Non-Economic Damages – Includes compensation for present and future pain and suffering, disfigurement, disabilities, and inconvenience.

In Nevada personal injury cases, a plaintiff often seeks both types of damages through a civil lawsuit with attorneys in Henderson.  In certain cases, a plaintiff may also seek punitive damages when his/her injuries are caused by a defendant’s willful, reckless, negligent, malicious, or fraudulent actions.

The monetary award for punitive damages is usually left to the discretion of the jury based on the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries, the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct, and the defendant’s wealth, so punishment causes hardship to the defendant. In Nevada, punitive damages are usually limited:

  • If awarded compensatory damages are less than $100,000, punitive damages are limited to a maximum award of $300,000.
  • If awarded compensatory damages are $100,000 or greater, punitive damages are limited to a maximum award of three times the amount of compensatory damages.
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