Personal injury trials are based on whether damages are awarded to the plaintiff, the person injured. Defendants, the person or entity found responsible, pay these out to cover things like medical bills, property damage, or lost wages. However, in extreme cases attorneys and their clients may seek out what are called punitive damages. When a judge or jury chooses to award these damages, it is usually to set an example. These are often difficult to receive and may also be capped at a certain amount. Unless the case is strong enough, plaintiffs in Indiana don’t typically seek them.
Basics of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are only awarded in a case where an attorney can show that the defendant demonstrated malicious, fraudulent, oppressive or gross negligence, meaning they knew what they were doing was wrong and could cause harm.
If a driver were to cause a head-on collision after repeatedly passing on a double yellow might be a case for punitive damages because of their extraordinarily bad behavior and negligence. In other cases, if they passed in a passing zone, or they made a more understandable driving error but still caused a serious accident, they may still be negligent, but not willfully so.
An example of a famous punitive damages case would be the infamous McDonald’s Hot Coffee lawsuit. For those unfamiliar with the details, a woman suffered severe injuries after excessively hot coffee spilled on her legs and groin caused third-degree burns. Her legal team found that the company had received hundreds of complaints about the dangerous temperature of their coffee and that it had caused injury to other customers. Because the McDonald’s corporation did nothing and attempted to conceal these issues, the jury found reason to award the plaintiff extra punitive damages, in addition to the original judgment compensating her for extensive medical bills.
Punitive Damages in Indiana
These punitive damages are difficult to prove in any state, and Indiana law states that punitive damages are not available in cases of wrongful death. Even in cases of injury, the attorney still needs to show clear evidence that the defendant acted with negligence and did so on purpose. According to Indiana Code 34-51-3-4, punitive damages can’t be more than three times the amount of normal damages awarded or higher than $50,000, whichever amount is less. Even after you win this award, only 25% goes to the victim and the other 75% goes to the state in the form of the victims compensation fund.
Is it worth it to go after these damages? It’s always best to discuss this issue with your attorney, but most likely it will be a time consuming effort with little payoff. In the event your legal team sees a reasonable amount of evidence they may choose to pursue punitive damages simply to set a precedent and hold a malicious defendant accountable. The Indianapolis personal injury attorneys at Cline Farrell Christie Lee & Bell want to help you get what you need to move forward in life with peace of mind. From listening to your story to fighting for you in court, we’re your advocates. If you or a loved one have been the victim of personal injury and believe you have a case that involves willful negligence, contact us today for a free consultation.