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In Alabama, people who file a lawsuit after a personal injury and win their case are entitled to certain compensation — or “damages.” In most instances, these damages are “compensatory,” which means the money is meant to compensate the plaintiff for their medical bills, missed work wages, pain and suffering, and lost or damaged property.
However, the plaintiff might also be entitled to “punitive” damages, which are more complicated and thus more difficult to qualify for. Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you might be eligible for punitive damages, so it’s important to understand all potential outcomes if you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for especially atrocious actions or their blatant disregard of the law. In order for punitive damages to be awarded, the plaintiff’s counsel must give “clear and convincing evidence” to the jury that the defendant acted with gross negligence or was intentionally malicious or fraudulent, thereby causing the injury.
Punitive damages are often awarded to set an example and discourage others from following in the defendant’s footsteps. By making a defendant pay for their bad actions (in addition to paying for the injuries they caused), the goal is to impress upon other individuals or companies that there are severe consequences for breaking the law.
The amount of punitive damages an injured person may receive is based on the amount of compensatory damages they are awarded. In Alabama, courts may award punitive damages up to three times the amount of the total compensatory damages. However, there is a cap of $1.5 million for punitive damages. (Compensatory damages, on the other hand, have no such limit.)
Because it’s hard to prove intent, punitive damages are not often awarded in personal injury cases. Alabama law states that plaintiffs must prove someone “deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice” to qualify for punitive damages.
In plain terms, here’s what that means:
Oppression: Subjecting a person to cruel and/or unjust hardship disregarding that person’s rights. For example, if a caregiver knowingly disregards their elderly patient’s wellbeing, leading to the patient’s injury, the caregiver could be made to pay punitive damages.
Fraud: Intentionally misrepresenting or withholding facts or physical property, thus causing injury or depriving someone of their property or legal rights. If a manufacturer’s product doesn’t pass a safety test, but they decide to sell it anyway and someone gets hurt, the manufacturer could face punitive damages.
Wantonness: Behaving recklessly or without regard to the safety or rights of others. Individuals driving under the influence could be subject to punitive damages for their actions since the impaired driver chose to get behind the wheel and put others’ safety at risk.
Malice: Intentionally doing something wrong with the intent to injure a person, harm or destroy their property, or otherwise behave in a way that implies malicious intent. For example, persons who initiate a road rage incident could be sued for punitive damages if an injury or death occurs as a result of their actions.
While there are some situations that will qualify for punitive damages in personal injury cases, they’re not common and can be difficult to prove. Judges and juries looking for “clear and convincing evidence” expect a well-presented case that leaves very little doubt about the defendant’s intent or reckless disregard for others’ safety. Therefore, it is essential you visit with an experienced attorney who will review your case with an open mind to determine if you’re entitled to punitive damages.
At Andy Citrin Injury Attorneys, we understand Alabama personal injury and product liability law and have helped thousands of victims receive fair compensation — including punitive damages where applicable. To request your free, no-obligation consultation where we will discuss your claim and weigh your legal options, please complete this brief online form or call 251-888-8888.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.
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