Punishing Bad Behavior - Awards of Punitive Damages
If you’ve suffered a personal injury, you deserve to be compensated for damages. This may include reimbursement for medical expenses, damage to property, as well as any pain and suffering caused by the injury. Beyond compensation for your financial losses, you may be able to recover money simply because of someone’s flagrant bad behavior. Punitive damages are those awarded by the court that go beyond what an injured party has had to – or will eventually – pay. These types of damages are meant to punish a negligent party and to provide retribution for willful, reckless behavior. If you’ve been injured as a result of a person or company’s flagrant misdeeds, you may be entitled to receive punitive damages.
In order to receive punitive damages, you must be able to prove your injury wasn’t caused by unintentional negligence but by the willful misconduct of others. Punitive damage awards often come into play in product liability cases, civil rights or employment discrimination cases, and in cases of fraud. According to the South Carolina Fairness in Civil Justice Act, punitive damages are meant to punish behavior that is willful, wanton, and reckless (for example, an automobile manufacturer who knows their car has safety issues but does nothing about it, and fails to warn consumers). Another example is job discrimination; perhaps you are just as efficient and capable as other workers, but you fail to make the same wages due to your gender or ethnicity.
A fairly well known example of punitive damages arose in the McDonald’s coffee case, a case which received intense media attention, spawned a documentary, and rallied lobbyists to make calls for tort reforms. The case involved a woman who sued McDonalds after the cup of coffee she accidentally spilled in her lap caused severe burns. The coffee was hot enough, and her burns serious enough, that she required hospitalization. While a jury awarded her $2.6 million in damages, a trial judge later reduced punitive damages in the case to $640,000.
AWARDS FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES
The amounts awarded in cases for punitive damages vary. As they are intended to punish reckless and wanton behavior, the awards are typically high enough to significantly hurt the party who willfully caused the damage. Under the South Carolina Code of Law, Section 15-32-540, the amount of punitive damages awarded may be up to three times higher than the amount of compensatory damages awarded. If the willful and reckless behavior was motivated by financial greed and there was a high likelihood that someone would be hurt, that amount can go even higher. While there are caps on the amounts of punitive damages awarded for lesser offenses, if there was intent to commit the harmful act or it resulted in a felony conviction, or if alcohol and drugs were involved, there is no limit to the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded.
CONTACT OUR PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY
Punitive damage awards can provide retribution for an injured party. If you’ve received injuries as a result of reckless and willful negligence, contact Anastopoulo Law Firm. With offices in Charleston and throughout South Carolina, our experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney can help you receive compensation you may not realize you are entitled to. Call us today for a free review of your case.