When people think of damages in an injury case, they usually consider economic damages like medical bills and lost wages. Personal injury victims, however, have the right to recover for a wide variety of different types of damages, including non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
There is also a particular type of damages available in some injury cases known as punitive damages. Your Las Vegas personal injury attorney can help determine if you qualify for this type of compensation in your case. Here’s what you need to know about punitive damages in your Nevada injury case.
What Are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are a type of compensation that is available when you’re hurt because of a personal injury. Punitive damages are financial compensation that you can receive when you’re hurt because the other party acts in a way that involves oppression, fraud or malice. Nevada Law 42.005 states the law for punitive damages in Las Vegas injury cases.
What’s the Purpose of Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant when they’re guilty of appalling conduct. They’re intended to punish the defendant when they deserve punishment. In addition to punishment, punitive damages also have the purpose of serving as a warning to other people and corporations who are considering acting in ways that are likely to hurt others.
A civil case can’t result in a verdict that sentences someone to jail. Incarceration is only possible in criminal cases. However, Nevada lawmakers want to ensure that defendants receive a harsh penalty when they hurt others unnecessarily. To allow these severe penalties, Nevada lawmakers passed laws allowing punitive damages to give victims of serious civil wrongs a remedy and to punish the bad actors that are responsible.
How Are Punitive Damages Different Than Other Types of Damages?
Punitive damages aren’t based on your actual losses. That makes them unlike other types of damages in injury cases. Economic damages like medical bills and lost wages are a simple mathematical calculation based on your actual losses. Non-economic damages are based on the severity of your injuries. They’re meant to compensate you for loss of regular use of your body and the pain and suffering that goes along with it.
Unlike economic damages and non-economic damages, punitive damages aren’t meant to compensate you for anything. Instead, they’re intended to send a message to the other party. They’re not based on your injuries. Instead, they focus on the actions of the other party. Your need and your losses don’t factor in when it comes to punitive damages. Instead, they’re based on the other side’s poor conduct and what it’s going to take to punish them and deter other bad actors.
When Can I Get Punitive Damages?
The first step to getting punitive damages is winning the case. When you win the case, the jury can decide if the circumstances warrant your receiving punitive damages. You qualify if the defendant acts with any of the following:
- Oppression – Actions that create unfair hardship for victims or take advantage of an unfair financial difference
- Fraud – Hiding the truth or trying to deceive victims
- Malice – Intentionally hurting someone or recklessly disregarding the safety of others
The evidence that you qualify for punitive damages must be clear and convincing. If you are eligible for punitive damages, the jury can decide whether to award you punitive damages. They don’t have to grant punitive damages, even if you qualify for them. It’s up to the jury to decide what’s fair under all the circumstances.
Are There Limitations on Punitive Damages?
Nevada Law 42.005(3) limits punitive damages to three times the amount of compensatory damages if compensatory damages are $100,000 or more. In cases where compensatory damages are less than $100,000, the jury can award up to $300,000 in punitive damages.
These limits don’t apply in the following cases:
- Defective products
- An insurer who refuses to pay in bad faith
- Exposure to hazardous materials
Who Decides If I Get Punitive Damages?
The jury decides if you get punitive damages. If either party disagrees with the decision, they can appeal it. The reviewing court won’t override the jury’s decision as long as there are sufficient grounds to justify it.
How Do They Decide If I Get Punitive Damages?
The jury starts with deciding whether or not to award any punitive damages. Once they determine punitive damages are appropriate, there’s a separate proceeding to determine how much to order. The financial resources of the defendant are one relevant factor.
Punitive damages are meant to be painful for the defendant. That means their ability to pay punitive damages is an essential factor in determining the punitive damage award. The jury decides the amount of the punitive damages award within the limitations of Nevada law.
An Example – Smith Food and Drug Centers Inc. v. Bellegarde
One Nevada case that discusses punitive damages is the Supreme Court case of Smith Food and Drug Centers Inc. v. Bellegarde. In the case, store employees detain an individual that they suspect of shoplifting. They ultimately pepper spray the individual and hold them in handcuffs. The victim brings a lawsuit against the store for the actions of the employees.
The jury awarded $65,000 in punitive damages to the victim. They said that the store hadn’t trained the store manager to handle suspected shoplifters. They said that the store should have had written procedures for how employees should handle shoplifters. The store allowed managers to handle suspected shoplifters as they saw fit. The jury found that the lack of policies and oversight justified punitive damages.
How Can an Attorney Help?
If you’re injured, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine if your case may qualify for punitive damages. If you are eligible, they can help you develop a plan to build a strong case that will show how the defendant acted with bad intentions.
Proving the case for punitive damages requires careful documentation of the other side’s bad acts. An attorney can help you gather the evidence you need so that can receive justice in the Nevada courts.