What are Punitive Damages?
In most civil litigation, the primary purpose of lawsuits is to hold negligent parties accountable and collect damages. Damages refer to the monetary compensation awarded to the plaintiff for having sustained an injury and their resulting loss of wages, emotional distress or property damage, among many others. In addition to the initial compensation sought, another type of damages may be brought upon the defendant by the courts called punitive damages.
Defining Punitive Damages
As you may expect from the term itself, punitive damages are additional damages assessed by the court upon the defendant in order to punish and deter them from engaging in similar conduct. Because of this, punitive damages are usually only brought forth when the defendant intentionally meant to cause harm. According to Missouri state law:
“Except as otherwise provided by statute, punitive damages shall not be awarded unless the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.”
Who Collects Punitive Damages?
In most cases, the total or a portion of the amount of punitive damages is awarded to the plaintiff. In the famous hot coffee lawsuit, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, Stella Liebeck received $160,000 in compensatory damages after being found 20 percent responsible. The jury then sought punitive damages against McDonald’s, which ended up totaling $480,000.
How Effective Are They?
Although the assessment of punitive damages occurs in only about 6 percent of civil cases, they have shown to be reasonably effective. There is no maximum amount that a jury can decide the defendant should pay. In the case of the hot coffee lawsuit, McDonald’s settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and claimed to have reduced the temperature of their coffee.
Missouri Personal Injury Attorneys
The personal injury attorneys at Kolker Law Firm are dedicated to aggressively pursuing justice on behalf of those who have been seriously injured. With more than 30 years of legal experience, our team has handled thousands of personal injury cases throughout Missouri and Illinois. If you have been injured and are seeking compensation, contact us today for a free initial consultation.
Don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact us by going to our website and filling out a consultation form or call us at (314) 684-8285.