In personal injury and negligence cases, compensatory and other damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for a loss. Punitive damages are intended to punish bad behavior on the part of the defendant in order to deter that individual from committing the same acts in the future.
Applying Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are awarded for particularly objectionable acts or those that cause harm directly to the plaintiff. Assault or premises liability cases are prime examples.
It is important to note that punitive damages cannot be the sole award in a personal injury or negligence case, but must be sentenced in addition to compensatory or other damages.
Punitive Damages and the Supreme Court
Because punitive damages are not based on a specific monetary amount, the amount that can be awarded varies from case to case. However, the Supreme Court ruled that punitive damages must be rewarded in a “reasonable” amount in comparison to compensatory damages. A settlement of more than a ten-to-one (punitive to compensatory) ratio is unconstitutional; a ratio of four-to-one or lower is considered reasonable.
For example, if the plaintiff’s medical bills totaled $5,000, punitive damages of $20,000 (four times the compensatory amount) could be a feasible ruling.
Other specifics of punitive damage calculations vary from one state to another. Courts will base the decision on the Supreme Court ruling and punitive damage rulings in other cases. Regardless of the amount, the defendant in must be notified in writing of the punitive damage ruling, including the total sum as well as the specific action that the defendant committed which lead the court to determine this sentence.