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Punitive Damages: What They Are & Why They Matter

Posted By Duck Law Firm, LLC || 31-May-2016

In most personal injury lawsuits that are ever created, an out-of-court settlement is used to bring the matter to a swift and quiet closure. However, some will go to the courtroom for litigation, such as when the defendant feels they are not liable for the injuries, or if the damages requested are not agreed upon. If the plaintiff wins such a case, they are generally granted money equal to, or sometimes less than, anything required to pay for medical bills and repair costs. But what if they need or want more? What if the defendant’s act was so reckless, negligent, or malicious that they should be penalized further?

When the court determines that additional punishment is necessary in a case, it can assign punitive damages, sometimes called exemplary damages. The entire purpose of punitive damages is to let the defendant know, and anyone else who might be aware of the case, that the action that caused the injury is wholly unacceptable and can be punished strictly. Since most people learn only when their finances are affected, forcing them, not their insurance company, to give monetary rewards to the plaintiff is seemingly the best way to go about this extra penalty.

Limitations to Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are important because they let someone who has been wrongfully injured find peace of mind and comfort through additional financial winnings. The amount is not set in stone, unlike actual damages that are set on a preexisting cost or bill, like $10,000 for hospital treatments. Instead, the plaintiff and their attorney decides how much punitive damages should be granted.

There are clear limits on punitive damages, though. Many states will not allow a plaintiff to collect more than five times any actual damages caused by the same event or action; if the matter is taken to federal court, the limitation is 10 times the actual damages. Most states also require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant is liable through “clear and convincing” evidence, which is more influential than just “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Lastly, most cases won’t even be eligible for punitive damages unless the defendant has been convicted of a crime linked to the injury, such as DUI or speeding in a car accident.

Louisiana’s Take On Punitive Damages Law

Out of all the states in the nation, Louisiana is easily one of the strictest when it comes to punitive damages law. Rather than allowing someone to sue for punitive damages whenever an egregious or heinous act is committed, someone can only sue for punitive damages in two particular case types:

  1. They were struck by a drunk or impaired driver.
  2. They were a minor who was abused by a sex offender.

The thinking behind the state’s arguably limited punitive damages law is that no one should be punished excessively for an accident. Yes, the state wants people to be able to recover and afford recovery, but, no, it does not want to drain the bank accounts of the people accountable. Some Louisiana legislators have cited other states that are debatably too lenient on punitive damages and seem to attach this penalty to every single personal injury or criminal case that comes their way. For example, Delaware currently doesn’t impose a cap on punitive damages and only requires a “preponderance of the evidence” to rule in the plaintiff’s favor, which is to say the plaintiff need only prove with 51% certainty that the defendant caused the damages in question.

With so much red tape surrounding a case involving punitive damages, it is not encouraged for a plaintiff to pursue such damages alone. With the help of an attorney, they can both strengthen their case and get a better understanding of how much punitive damages they should be asking for. If you need legal help in Louisiana, you can contact Duck Law Firm, LLC and our Lafayette personal injury lawyer can discuss your options during a free consultation.

Work with a team with 23+ years of experience. Call 337.660.2699 today.

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