You have heard the term punitive damages before involving high-profile court cases. However, when a case goes to trial, punitive damages are only awarded in a very limited number of personal injury claims. To be awarded punitive damages in court, the behavior of the defendant has to be particularly negligent and worthy of extra punishment.

We are going to discuss what we mean by punitive damages and when they may be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit.

General Damages

Damages are usually awarded in order to compensate an injured party for injuries resulting from the actions of the defendant. There are many different kinds of compensation that can be recovered due to an injury, and this includes compensation for physical pain and suffering, physical disfigurement, mental anguish, lost income, and medical costs.

For instance, let’s say that John was harmed in a car crash where the at-fault driver, Tom, was liable for his damages. John can possibly recover lost damages for the permanent loss of ability to use his arm, for three missing months of income, and his costs for medical treatment. John’s damages would be awarded on the basis of the financial loss he took on resulting from Tom’s actions, as well as due to the negative consequences that the crash had on John’s life. These are all typical damages that are usually recovered in a personal injury claim, but punitive damages go beyond simply lost financial compensation on part of the plaintiff. 

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are not like regular damages. Punitive damages are solely meant to punish the defendant, and they are not linked directly to any harm experienced by the plaintiff. They are not meant to provide compensation for particular losses, but it is true that the plaintiff will ultimately receive the financial settlement for punitive damages from the defendant when the at-fault party’s actions were particularly egregious. 

You may ask yourself: “when are punitive damages possible?” In Utah, recovering punitive damages requires extreme negligence or misconduct on part of the defendant. Punitive damages can also be applied in particular cases, such as those involving a breach of an agreed upon contract.

When Can Punitive Damages be Recovered?

Punitive Damages for Extreme Cases of NegligenceThere are specific situations that will allow you to recover punitive damages. These situations involve:

Gross Negligence. This is defined as conduct that is particularly reckless and involves a conscious indifference to the safety, life, or rights of others. Ordinary acts of negligence typically involve a breach of duty to act within reasonable care by the defendant. Gross negligence has an added factor of extreme recklessness. For instance, a business could be held liable for negligence for a failure to repair a faulty roof that later collapsed and injured customers. However, let’s imagine that a building inspector told the business that the roof had to be repaired due to its hazardous condition, and the business was told to close that section of the building to guests until it could be repaired. If the business owner chooses to not heed this information, resulting in the roof collapsing four months later, harming customers in the process. In this case, the business would possibly be liable for gross negligence because the owner knew of the hazardous condition of the roof and consciously disregarded the safety of his or her customers. 

It should be noted that when gross negligence is involved government bodies and employees could lose their general immunity from liability regarding personal injury lawsuits.

Foundation of Punitive Damages. Ultimately, punitive damages are used to deter similar wrongful actions by punishing the grossly negligent party.

In the example provided above, let’s say that Tom intentionally struck John’s car after believing that John cut him off on the roadway. Tom then knowingly engaged in purposeful misconduct and struck John’s vehicle. John should be able to recover damages for his sustained injuries. As well, John would have a valid claim to receive punitive damages. John could make the argument that Tom should be punished for intentionally causing him harm and in order to deter others from acting in a similar, grossly negligent manner. 

Sanctions for Lack of Reasonable Basis. There have to be reasonable grounds for an injured party to pursue punitive damages in a personal injury claim. When there is limited or no evidence of known misconduct, gross negligence, or deception, a jury can potentially levy financial sanctions on the injured party and his or her lawyer for attempting to seek punitive damages. Courts attempt to discourage baseless claims for punitive damages in personal injury cases by mandating that there be reasonable grounds for asking for punitive damages in their cases.

Negligent Car Accidents in Salt Lake City 

In the state of Utah, there are many examples of at-fault parties behaving recklessly when it comes to auto accidents. When someone knowingly puts another person on the roadway in danger, whether it be due to drunk driving, being on their cell phone, or discussing something with a passenger, they are acting negligently and can be held accountable for their actions. In cases of extreme negligence, such as when someone knowingly attempts to harm another person, these cases can allow injured victims to pursue punitive damages in order to punish the at-fault driver for their particularly abhorrent behavior. In these cases, the victim is able to partner with a Salt Lake City car crash injury lawyer in order to hold the negligent party responsible for their actions and to regain lost compensation due to their injuries. 

The team of Utah personal injury lawyers at Siegfried & Jensen have been helping the residents of Utah for over three decades. We have the experience needed to plan, execute, and win your personal injury claim. We believe that no victim should be held financially responsible for injuries that are caused by another negligent party. If you or a loved one has been harmed by the actions of a reckless driver, contact our law offices today at (801) 845-9000 to discuss your case with a qualified legal professional and see what options are available to you.

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Content checked by personal injury attorney Todd Bradford. I worked for a small law firm in Utah County, where I handled various types of cases. My main focus was personal injury and I decided that is what I enjoyed doing the most. I rejoined Siegfried and Jensen in 2012 where my focus is solely on helping personal injury clients. I take pride in helping personal injury clients and enjoy serving them. If you need an attorney for auto accidents or injuries of any kind in Salt Lake City, UT, Ogden, UT, Spokane, WA, or Boise, ID, contact us.