Economic and non-economic damages pay the plaintiff for their monetary losses and the emotional impact of an accident.
Punitive damages are less common than other types of damages, but they aren’t unheard of. There are certain times when it may be appropriate to ask the court to impose punitive damages.
Punitive damages are a form of compensation paid to the plaintiff in a personal injury case. Punitive damages punish the defendant for their conduct. They are meant to act as a deterrent to the defendant and others to avoid engaging in the same conduct in the future.
Punitive damages are different from economic and non-economic damages because of their purpose. While punitive damages punish the defendant for bad behavior, other types of damages pay the victim for their losses.
That means that punitive damages are not related to the plaintiff’s medical bills, lost wages, or pain and suffering. Instead, they are directly related to the behavior of the defendant. Accordingly, punitive damages are less common and harder to prove.
It also means that punitive damage awards can be substantial and significantly more than a plaintiff’s damages – particularly if the defendant is a corporation or a business. That’s because it may take a larger award to punish a business rather than an individual with less money.
Any plaintiff in a personal injury case can ask for punitive damages if the defendant acted with malice, reckless and outrageous indifference, or conscious indifference to the health and safety of others. This means that the defendant acted in a way that was particularly egregious or socially unacceptable.
The plaintiff must prove the defendant’s state of mind with clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence is a high burden in a legal case. It is more than a preponderance of the evidence that must be met to prove negligence. However, it is less than beyond a reasonable doubt required in criminal cases.
Just because the plaintiff is awarded punitive damages in the trial court, doesn’t mean it will stick. Sometimes the defendant appeals punitive awards. The Supreme Court of Oregon has been known to overturn high amounts as unconstitutional.
Even though the plaintiff asks for punitive damages, they don’t automatically get to keep all of the money. Under the Oregon Revised Statutes, the state receives 70% of the punitive damages awarded in a personal injury case. The plaintiff keeps the remaining 30%.
This law makes sense because punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim for their losses. The plaintiff should already be made whole through economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages are extra money, and sometimes the award can be far greater than the plaintiff’s damages.
When the state gets paid punitive damages, the majority of the money goes into a criminal victim’s fund. The remainder is sent to the state court facilities and security account.
Since punitive damages require recklessness or intentional conduct by the defendant, most personal injury cases are not eligible. That’s because most personal injury cases are based on negligence, not intentional conduct.
However, examples of cases when punitive damages may be appropriate include:
Of course, it is always best to speak with an attorney about your case to see if punitive damages may apply. Every personal injury case is different, and there is no specific type of case that is automatically eligible.
Most Portland personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means that they take a percentage of the final award or settlement in a personal injury case. If the lawyer doesn’t recover any money for the plaintiff, the plaintiff doesn’t have to pay the lawyer.
There is a cap on the amount of money that a lawyer can take from a plaintiff’s punitive damage award in Oregon. If a plaintiff receives 30% of the punitive damages as is allowed under the law, the lawyer cannot take more than 20% of that award.
Most clients and their lawyers will have an agreement in place that outlines the percentage that the lawyer will take as their fee. This includes where it will come from – especially if they expect to pursue punitive damages. It is important to discuss this with your lawyer before hiring them to ensure that there is no confusion at the end of a case. If you would like to learn more, call Tillmann Law Personal Injury Lawyers at (503) 272-8986 to schedule your free consultation.