Individuals who have been injured due to the fault of another party, whether in a vehicular collision, through medical malpractice, in a slip and fall incident, or through another kind of accident, may be eligible to receive damages. In legal terminology, “damages” refers to the sum of money a person is entitled to after another party has caused them harm through a breach of duty or violation of a right.
The term “damages” generally covers two specific types of damages. The first—compensatory damages—are designed to give justice to someone who has been wronged. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are awarded in addition to compensatory damages with the intention of preventing others from being hurt by the same actions in the future. Punitive damages are not awarded in every case. When a court decides to award punitive damages, it is because the defendant’s behavior has been deemed especially harmful and worthy of punishment.
Determining when it is right to pursue punitive damages in a personal injury case is the job of an experienced attorney. To learn more, contact a Jackson, MS personal injury lawyer with a history of success in achieving compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of their clients.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are also called exemplary damages. They are meant to go beyond the justice given to wronged parties and “set an example” so the negligent behavior does not happen again. Punitive damages are never given on their own, only when other damages have already been awarded.
Punitive damages are much less frequently applied than compensatory damages. They are awarded in only an estimated 5% of verdicts. This type of damage is relatively uncommon in personal injury cases. The state of Mississippi has its own specific set of guidelines dictating how and when punitive damages may be applied. We will look further at those guidelines below.
The seeking of punitive damages is sometimes necessary when there has been a large-scale act of gross negligence causing severe harm to one or many people. You may be familiar with cases in which manufacturing companies intentionally hide evidence of toxins in consumer products, drunk drivers cause catastrophic accidents, organizations conceal ongoing abuse, or companies willfully defraud the public. In situations such as these, the application of punitive damages may be warranted.
The objective is awarding punitive damages is to punish a defendant for negligence and prevent future occurrences. When the decision is made to apply punitive damages, the defendant is often a large corporation or organization but can be an individual. This category of damages is sometimes awarded in the following types of cases:
- Negligence occurring with criminal conduct
- Medical malpractice
- Defective or toxic products
- Dangerous or violent conduct
- Severely harmful drunk driving
In contrast to punitive damages, the more common type of damages is compensatory damages. This type is also referred to as “actual damages” and is calculated in response to the losses that the injured party suffered. Most people are more familiar with compensatory than punitive damages, as they are most frequently applied in personal injury cases. The amount of money awarded is based on the level of harm, loss, or injury sustained, and does not aim to punish the defendant but to compensate the plaintiff. Compensatory damages can include medical expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, property damage, and any other economic or non-economic loss the victim may have suffered.
Punitive Damages in Mississippi
Almost every state in the U.S. allows punitive damages to be awarded under specified conditions, Mississippi included. Under Mississippi law, punitive damages can only be sought when there is clear evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice or gross negligence, committed actual fraud, or showed willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of others. Punitive damages can only be considered after an award of compensatory damages has been made against a party.
Many states also set limitations, or caps, on the maximum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded in a single case. In addition to regulations at the state level, the U.S. Supreme Court has its own set of policies limiting the level of punitive damages that can be awarded based on the U.S. Constitution. Punitive damage caps in Mississippi are determined in consideration of the net worth of the defendant, whether that party is a company, individual, or other entity. Punitive damage caps are generally set at 2% – 4% depending on net worth. For example, for a defendant with a net worth of $ 50,000,000 or less, punitive damages cannot exceed 2% of the total net worth.
When awarding punitive damages, the situations of both sides in the case, the defendant’s side and the plaintiff’s side, need to be evaluated and taken into account. Mississippi law states that in all cases involving an award of punitive damages, the following relevant information must be considered when determining the amount of punitive damages:
- The defendant’s financial condition and net worth
- The nature and seriousness of the defendant’s wrongdoing
- The impact of the defendant’s actions on the plaintiff
- The relationship of the defendant to the plaintiff
- The defendant’s awareness of the amount of harm that was caused
- The defendant’s motivation in causing harm
- The duration of the defendant’s wrongdoing
- Whether the defendant attempted to hide their wrongful actions
- Any other circumstances evidenced to be relevant to determining a proper amount of punitive damages
A Jackson, MS Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
It takes a strong foundation of knowledge and practical experience to achieve the best possible outcome in a personal injury case. Because each case is so unique to the circumstances of the individuals involved, a legal representative needs to be resourceful and intuitive in order to help their client receive maximum compensation for the losses suffered. In most cases, this means examining the evidence to determine compensatory damages, but in some cases, it means careful analysis to further decide if punitive damages are justified. If you believe that you may be entitled to punitive damages in your personal injury case, reach out to our office to schedule a free, no-obligation conversation about your case.