In the context of a lawsuit, damages are an award, usually money, meant to compensate the injured plaintiff for his injury or loss. There are two main categories of damages a plaintiff may receive when he prevails in a suit: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages, also referred to as actual damages, reimburse the plaintiff for tangible losses, such as medical bills or lost wages, and also for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering or potential future lost wages. The main purpose of these damages is to try to put the plaintiff back in the position he or she would be in had the injury never occurred. Although money is not a very good substitute for being in good health, it is usually the only remedy the justice system can offer.
The second type of damages which may be awarded is punitive damages, which go above and beyond the plaintiff's provable injuries. Punitive damages are designed to punish and deter improper conduct in the hope that it will prevent a person or corporation from injuring someone else in the future. Punitive damages are generally not available in contract cases, but mostly awarded in personal injury tort cases. Courts intend for punitive damages to have retributive and deterrent effects on defendants, and the United States Supreme Court has stated that such damages reflect a jury's “moral condemnation” of the defendant.
Over the last couple of decades, the Supreme Court has heard several cases in which it analyzed when it was appropriate to award punitive damages, and whether large punitive damage awards violated the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court has held that for punitive damages to be constitutional, the award must be reasonably related to the plaintiff's injury. In a recent case, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the Court also held that punitive damages are not allowed to penalize a defendant for harm to people not party to the lawsuit. For example, the defendant, Philip Morris, should only have to pay punitive damages in regard to this specific plaintiff's injuries, and not injuries to all smokers.
The Supreme Court has also looked at the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages to determine whether or not a punitive damages award is excessive. In the 1993 case TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources Corp., the Court declined to establish mathematical bright line rule for an acceptable punitive award. However, in 2003, the Court stated that awards exceeding a single-digit ratio of punitive to compensatory damages will rarely be allowed under the Due Process Clause. Each state further has the ability to statutorily set more specific limits on punitive damages.
When you file a lawsuit, your attorney will help determine whether you should ask for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. If the defendant's actions were obviously careless or outrageous, you will likely be able to seek punitive damages. In Indiana, for example, the Indiana Code limits punitive damages to 3 times the amount of awarded compensatory damages, or $50,000, whichever is greater. Additionally, much of the punitive damage awards goes to a state fund to help compensate crime victims, not to the injury victim hurt by the Defendant’s conduct. However, even the threat of punitive damages is often a powerful motivating factor for a Defendant to pay a fair amount to settle your personal injury claim.
It is important to contact an experienced Indiana personal injury attorney to help you determine whether seeking punitive damages is appropriate in your case.
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Don is a founding partner and one of the nation’s top-ranked personal injury litigators. He is a member of the Multi-million Dollar Advocates Forum, which includes less than 1% of the nation’s trial lawyers, and awarded the highest ranking given by Martindale Hubbel and AVVO.
More importantly, Don understands representing personal injury victims is about more than recovering the best settlement: it’s about helping clients get back on their feet and supporting them in every aspect of their recovery.
In nearly all cases, our clients seek compensation from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Before forming Wruck Paupore, Jason worked for a prominent law firm representing some of the world’s largest insurers. This experience gives Jason a deep understanding of the insurance industry and the strategies it uses to pay injury victims as little as possible.
Jason -- and our entire team -- put this inside knowledge to work to force insurance companies to pay what is actually owed. Often, we use the insurance company’s own tactics against them as we fight for the full compensation our client deserves.
For more than four decades, Keith has been fighting for injury victims. During that time, he’s watched the insurance industry change, with insurers now more interested in protecting their stock price than treating injury victims fairly.
Since the beginning, Keith has put people first. From his childhood in Gary, Indiana during the 1960’s and working his way through law school, Keith has risen to become one of the Midwest’s most respected trial lawyers. He has never forgotten that being a lawyer is about helping people -- and seeing injury victims through struggles in a way that could change their lives forever.
Over the decades, Keith, Don and Jason have fought relentlessly for clients, even when other lawyers have said the case was impossible to win.
Advertising Materials / Legal Advertising. Any testimonials or stories set forth on this website are by actual clients and their families. Such testimonials or stories are provided for informational purposes only and are not to be considered as a promise or guarantee as to the outcome of your specific case and may not be typical. Every case presents unique facts and circumstances. You case and expected outcome will likely differ from the facts of the cases listed. The only way to properly evaluate your case is to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney.