What Are Punitive Damages?

Juries may award punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits if the plaintiff (the injured party) proves that the facts of the case justify the award. Punitive damages are in addition to compensation the jurors award for actual damages. Actual damages compensate a plaintiff for their financial losses (economic damages) and their pain and suffering (non-economic damages).

However, punitive damages are intended to “punish” the defendant (the party who caused your injuries). The monetary penalty is intended to discourage the defendant from engaging in the same conduct again. Punitive damages may also deter people from engaging in similar conduct that causes harm to others. 

The laws allowing punitive damages vary by state. Some states may not allow punitive damages, or they may cap the amount of punitive damages a jury may award. If a state permits punitive damages, state law defines the type and level of behavior that justifies an award of punitive damages. 

When Can I Receive Punitive Damages in an Oklahoma Personal Injury Case?

Oklahoma laws allow punitive damages only in specific situations. According to Title 23 §9.1 of the Oklahoma Statutes, a jury may impose punitive damages to punish the defendant and as an example to others who might engage in similar behavior. Jurors award punitive damages based on the following factors:

  • The seriousness of the danger to the public posed by the defendant’s conduct;
  • Whether the defendant profited from their misconduct and, if so, the degree of profitability;
  • If the defendant concealed or tried to conceal the conduct;
  • The length of time the defendant engaged in the wrongdoing;
  • The degree of awareness by the defendant that their conduct was a hazard and excessive;
  • The defendant’s financial condition;
  • The number of employees and their position in causing or concealing wrongdoing when the defendant is a corporation; and,
  •  The defendant’s conduct and attitude when their wrongdoing was discovered. 

The burden of proof for punitive damages is higher than the proof required to award actual damages. The jurors must find that the evidence proves the legal elements required to award punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. Clear and convincing evidence means the jurors believe the evidence is substantially and highly more likely to be true than untrue. 

There are several categories of punitive damages, including:

  • The defendant acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others;
  • An insurance company recklessly disregarded the duty to act in good faith with the insured or with malice intentionally breached its duty to act in good faith with the insured;
  • The defendant acted with malice and intent toward other people; OR,
  • The defendant or insurer intentionally with malice toward others while engaged in life-threatening conduct to humans.

Once jurors determine that punitive damages are justified, they must determine how much to award. However, the award is subject to caps.

Punitive Damages Are Capped in Oklahoma 

If you receive punitive damages in Oklahoma City, they are subject to a cap. For example, if the award is based on Category I in the punitive damages statute, the cap cannot exceed the greater of $100,000 or the amount of the actual damages. 

Punitive damages under Category II are capped at the greatest of $500,000, two times the actual damages, or the increased financial benefit the defendant derived from their conduct. However, punitive damages awarded under Category III are not capped because the defendant’s conduct under Category III was life-threatening to others. 

What Types of Personal Injury Cases in Oklahoma City Can a Jury Award Punitive Damages?

Juries can award punitive damages in any type of personal injury case. Examples of cases in which defendants may be required to pay punitive damages include, but are not limited to:

Proving the defendant’s conduct rose to the level to justify punitive damages can be challenging. The jurors must believe the defendant’s conduct was reckless, intentional, or committed with malice. An experienced Oklahoma City personal injury lawyer uses the evidence to establish grounds for awarding punitive damages. 

Learn More About Damages During Free Consultation With Our Oklahoma City Personal Injury Lawyers

An insurance adjuster will not explain whether punitive damages might be available in your case. The adjuster’s job is to pay the least amount possible for your claim to save the insurance company money. 

For more information, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at (405) 497-0480 to schedule a free initial consultation today. Laird Hammons Laird Personal Injury Lawyer’s office is located in Oklahoma City, OK.