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When people think of damages in an injury case, they usually consider economic damages like medical bills and lost wages. But in some cases, a defendant may be ordered to pay additional amounts if their conduct was especially harmful.
These additional amounts are known as punitive damages. Personal injury victims have the right to recover for all types of damage caused by another’s negligence, including non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
Our personal injury attorneys explain what you need to know about punitive damages in your Nevada injury case.
Punitive damages are a type of compensation available when you’re hurt because of a personal injury. Punitive damages in Las Vegas injury cases compensate the victim above and beyond compulsory damages. These damages address a person’s willful negligence. Some examples include:
- Drunk driving – A person chooses to drink alcohol and then drive.
- Medical malpractice – A doctor knowingly makes an error, so the patient has to return for treatment.
- Product liability – A company wants to save money, so they cut corners, knowing the product could harm consumers.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant when they’re guilty of appalling conduct for the mental anguish they cause to another person. They’re intended to punish the defendant’s bad behavior. In addition to punishment, they also serve as a warning to other people and corporations who are considering acting in ways 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 defendants receive a harsh penalty when they unnecessarily hurt others. To allow these severe penalties, Nevada lawmakers passed laws allowing punitive damages to compensate the plaintiff when serious civil wrongs are committed.
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 the 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 other party’s actions and how they cause physical pain.
The first step to getting punitive damages is winning the case. When you win the case, the jury can decide if the circumstances warrant you to receive additional compensation for 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 qualifies for punitive damages must be clear and convincing. If you are eligible for additional damages, the jury can decide whether to award you or not. They don’t have to grant them, even if you qualify for them. It’s up to the jury to decide what’s fair for the circumstance.
Nevada Law limits the award 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
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 sufficient grounds exist to justify it.
Once the jury determines punitive damages are appropriate, there’s a separate proceeding to determine how much to order. Since punitive damages are meant to be painful, the defendant’s financial resources are one factor that gets taken into consideration.
The defendant’s ability to pay punitive damages is essential in determining the award amount. The jury decides the amount of the punitive damages award within the limitations of Nevada law.
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 this case, store employees detained an individual they suspected of shoplifting. They ultimately pepper spray the individual and hold them in handcuffs. The victim brings a lawsuit against the store for the employees’ actions.
The jury awarded $65,000 in punitive damages to the victim. They said 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 deal with suspected shoplifters as they saw fit. The jury found that the lack of policies and oversight justified punitive damages.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine if your case may qualify for punitive damages if you’re injured. If you are eligible, they can help you develop a plan to build a strong case showing how the defendant acted with bad intentions.
Proving your case requires careful documentation of the facts and circumstances. An attorney can help you gather the evidence you need to receive justice in the Nevada courts. Contact our expert team today for a consultation about your case.
Adam S. Kutner is a top 100 trial lawyer with 32 years’ experience and expertise that will benefit you
Call us at (702) 382-0000 anytime to schedule a free consultation. We will work to get you the maximum settlement as quickly as possible so you can move forward on your healing journey.
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Adam S. Kutner
PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER
With more than 32 years of experience fighting for victims of personal injury in the Las Vegas Valley, attorney Adam S. Kutner knows his way around the Nevada court system and how to get clients their settlement promptly and trouble-free.