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How to tell if you might qualify for punitive damages in your personal injury case

On Behalf of | Jan 21, 2021 | Personal Injury

If you have heard of punitive damages, it is important to know that they are not available in most personal injury lawsuits that take place in Charlotte. But it is worth knowing what punitive damages are and how much you can seek.

As the name suggests, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant in a personal injury suit. This is different from most damages, which are supposed to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries’ economic and non-economic effects. Instead, punitive damages are meant to deter the defendant from committing the especially egregious actions or inactions that caused your harm.

Going beyond proving negligence

However, the circumstances that would lead to punitive damages are relatively rare. In North Carolina, to prove that you should receive punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant’s actions involved one of the following:

  • Malice
  • Fraud
  • Willful or wanton conduct

This goes beyond standard negligence, and thus the standard of proof is much higher. State law requires proof by “clear and convincing evidence,” the highest level of proof in civil court. Also, someone solely guilty of vicarious liability or breach of contract cannot be ordered to pay punitive damages. When a judge or jury awards punitive damages, the amount must not exceed triple the compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. There’s an exception to this cap in some drunk driving cases.

When does going for punitive damages make sense?

While every personal injury claim is serious, punitive damages typically come into play in the most extreme cases, like wrongful death or permanent disability. Often, the defendant is also charged with a crime related to the victim’s injuries, such as drunk driving or aggravated assault.

Your personal injury attorney will advise you whether you should consider pursuing punitive damages in your case.

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