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Punitive Damages: It’s Not Always About You

Personal injury lawsuits are generally about monetary compensation. Someone else’s negligence caused an injury which may be physical, mental, or else to your property, and so you sue that person or else settle out of court in order to get a fair compensation for your loss. However, in addition to the standard damages of lost income, lost or damaged property, and mental and physical pain and suffering, there’s also such a thing as punitive damages, money which is awarded in order to punish the defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff.

A Higher Standard Of Negligence

With most forms of personal injury damages, all you need to do is prove that the defendant is at fault and that their actions resulted in a need for compensation. However, because punitive damages are essentially a form of punishment, motive matters just as much as fault. Negligence isn’t enough: the plaintiff must prove that the defendant committed gross negligence, which is similar but requires that the defendant knowingly and without regard put human lives in danger. Alternately, punitive damages also apply if the defendant acted with malice, with the intention to cause harm.

In Florida, at least, punitive damages are just as strict if you try to level them at an employer, sponsor, or anyone else who might have been responsible for the person doing the damage. Such an employer must have known about and approved of the employee’s actions or else engaged directly in the same thing or something just as bad.

One last restriction (which is just as important as the rest) is that the plaintiff must have already proven that he or she deserves compensatory damages. After all, while punitive damages are more about punishment than compensation, they probably shouldn’t be awarded to whoever happens to bring a lawsuit to court first.

An Alternate Path To Justice

There is, of course, a different sort of punitive penalty in the American legal system: criminal fines and imprisonment. So considering that someone assigned punitive damages in civil court is probably also serving time and paying the government for his or her actions, what’s the point in extending these fines to a private individual?

To put it simply, it’s because sometimes the legal system fails. In probably the most famous example of differing results, OJ Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife and her boyfriend, but in the wrongful death case which followed he was found liable on both counts. By assigning him punitive damages, it was possible to punish him on top of making him pay the victims’ survivors for lost wages, funeral expenses, and the pain and suffering of losing a loved one. Punitive damages are also paid directly to the victims of the grossly negligent or outright malicious act, whereas criminal fines are paid directly to the government and enrich nobody but the government.

If you live in southwest Florida, particularly in the Sarasota area, and if you or a loved one suffered because of someone else’s negligence or malice, then contact All Injuries Law Firm right away. While we can’t undo the damage that’s already done, we can at least work towards making sure the responsible party pays for what happened.