After an injury or accident, you may explore options for filing a personal injury claim against the person who caused your injury. Under Pennsylvania law, injured parties are entitled to recover compensation for several types of damages. Punitive damages are one type of damage that might be available in some personal injury cases.
What Are Damages?
Damages include the financial losses (economic damages) you sustain because of an accident or injury.
These damages often include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Personal care costs
- Travel expenses
- Medical equipment
- Help with household chores
Additionally, you may also be entitled to non-economic damages. These damages compensate you for the physical, emotional, and mental suffering you experience because of an accident or injury. They also include compensation for permanent impairments, disabilities, reduced quality of life, and scarring.
The above damages are compensatory damages. They are intended to compensate you for actual losses incurred because of the at-fault party’s negligence or wrongdoing.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, do not compensate the plaintiff for losses. Instead, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for specific types of conduct. Punitive damages also deter the defendant and other individuals from committing similar conduct in the future.
Under Pennsylvania law, the defendant’s conduct must meet a specific statutory standard before the defendant can be ordered to pay punitive damages. Punitive damages are not awarded for ordinary negligence, such as errors of judgment and mistakes.
For a punitive damages award, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct was:
- Malicious and willful
- Reckless and careless to the point that the conduct rises to the level of wanton disregard for the safety of others, or
- Committed with an evil motive
Punitive damages are not awarded in all cases. Examples of cases where punitive damages may be awarded include DUI accident cases resulting in injury or death, product liability cases where the manufacturer hid dangers or defects, and medical malpractice cases involving extreme recklessness or willful conduct.
How Much Can I Recover for Punitive Damages?
There are many state cases and the United States Supreme Court cases that relate to punitive damages. Opinions from the United States Supreme Court have stated that defendants must have due process, and punitive damages should not be awarded without merit.
Furthermore, the number of punitive damages should not be excessive. Jury instructions for punitive damages should be clear on the requirements for awarding punitive damages.
Punitive damages are calculated concerning compensatory damages. They are generally a multiple of these damages. For example, punitive damages may be two times the amount of the other damages in the case.
Punitive damages may be capped in some cases. For example, punitive damages in a medical malpractice case are capped at 200 percent of the compensatory damages. Twenty-five percent awarded for punitive damages must be paid to the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund.
Punitive damages are not permitted in cases against government entities in Pennsylvania.
Do I Need to File a Lawsuit to Recover Punitive Damages?
Yes, you would need to file a lawsuit to recover punitive damages. Because these damages “punish” the defendant, a jury must decide whether the defendant’s conduct justifies punitive damages. An insurance company is not going to voluntarily offer to pay punitive damages for a personal injury case.
How Can I Recover the Maximum Value for My Personal Injury Case?
Even if you are not entitled to punitive damages, there are ways that you can maximize the value of the other damages in your personal injury case. Steps that you can take to increase your chance of recovering maximum value for your personal injury claim include:
- Report the accident or injury immediately. Insist on a written report of the accident or your injury.
- Seek immediate medical attention for injuries. Delays in medical care could give the other party a reason to question your injuries.
- Report all symptoms to your physicians. Minor symptoms could indicate a serious injury or could worsen in the days following the accident.
- Do not provide statements to insurance companies or sign documents without consulting a lawyer.
- Avoid using social media until your case is closed. Do not discuss the case with anyone other than your attorney.
- Keep a detailed record of your expenses and bills with copies of receipts, bills, invoices, and other proof of the expense.
- Follow your doctor’s treatment plan, and keep all doctor’s appointments.
- Tell your attorney everything about prior accidents and injuries.
Seeking legal counsel as soon as possible can help you avoid making mistakes that could hurt your case.
Contact Our Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation
Contact our law firm to schedule your free consultation with one of our Philadelphia personal injury attorneys. Let’s discuss your case and how we can help you recover compensation for all the damages you are entitled to by law.