Personal Injury

What are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Punitive Damages Personal InjuryAt the conclusion of any successful personal injury lawsuit, the courts will normally award the plaintiff a certain amount of monetary compensation for harm resulting from the actions of the guilty party. Such damages exist for only one reason: to reimburse the injured party for such tangible injuries as physical impairment; medical expenses; loss of wages or ability to earn; mental torment; or general pain and suffering.

In a subset of cases, however, the plaintiff may also receive punitive damages. This second type of award serves as a punishment for the defendant, and although it has no direct relationship to any of the plaintiff’s specific injuries, he or she still stands to benefit financially.

Punitive Damages in Nevada

The state of Nevada may see fit to award punitive damages when the evidence shows that at least one of four types of behavior played a role in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. These are:

  • Conscious disregard, which amounts to a willful and deliberate failure to avoid the harmful consequences of a purposeful act.
  • Fraud, or the use of deceit, misrepresentation or concealment to swindle another person.
  • Malice, express or implied. This describes behavior that is either recklessly indifferent to the rights, life or welfare of others or conducted with the deliberate intention of causing harm.
  • Oppressing or despicably subjecting another person to hardships that are both cruel and unjust.

The plaintiff will only win punitive damages if one or more of the above circumstances played a provable role in causing his injuries.

Nevada’s Limitations on Punitive Damages

If the circumstances surrounding the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from fraud, oppression or malice on the part of the defendant, the state of Nevada will limit the amount of any punitive award in relation to the amount of compensatory damages as follows:

  • For compensatory damages of $100,000 or less, punitive damages can go no higher than $300,000.
  • For compensatory damages of more than $100,000, punitive damages will cap out at three times the compensatory amount.

Nevertheless, the state will impose no limits whatsoever if the defendant who is guilty of fraud, oppression or malice should prove to be:

  • A manufacturer, seller or distributor of a known defective product.
  • A violator of state or federal discriminatory housing practices.
  • Someone who spilled or improperly disposed of hazardous, toxic or radioactive materials.
  • A defamer of the plaintiff’s character.

In any of the above situations, a subsequent hearing will separately determine the applicable amount of punitive damages. Only at that time will any evidence concerning the defendant’s financial condition be admissible.

Nevada Employers and Punitive Damages

If the plaintiff’s injuries occurred on the job, the employer will be liable for punitive damages if the evidence shows that he or she:

  • Hired the plaintiff knowing that he was unfit to perform the duties that caused the injuries.
  • Consciously permitted the plaintiff to engage in a wrongful act that led to the accident in question.
  • Triggered the mishap by engaging in fraud, oppression or malice, express or implied.

In the case of a corporation, the employer will be liable for punitive damages only if at least one of the foregoing elements applies to an officer, director or managing agent of the business who approved and encouraged the plaintiff’s activities on behalf of the organization.

When Punitive Damages Do Not Apply

In the majority of Nevada’s personal injury cases, punitive damages are rarely an option. That’s because while the defendant may be guilty of having caused the harm, such cases are usually accidental in nature. There is often no way of proving that his actions were intentionally neglectful or malicious.

The Need for a Reasonable Basis

While most personal injury plaintiffs would be glad to receive punitive damages over and above any ordinary compensation, those who seek to obtain them must have a reasonable basis for doing so. If the plaintiff and his legal team are unable to provide clear evidence of intentional misconduct, gross negligence or deceitful behavior on the part of the defendant, the courts can penalize them with monetary sanctions. This is meant to discourage frivolous and irresponsible claims.

How Weiner Law Group Can Help

Rather than stick to strict guidelines, the laws of Las Vegas and of Nevada in general sometimes leave the awarding of punitive damages up to the court’s discretion. This fact can often work in the plaintiff’s favor. If you feel strongly that the circumstances of your particular case might justify such compensation, a consultation with one of the personal injury attorneys at Weiner Law Group will be to your benefit. After thoroughly investigating your situation, we will do all that we can to see that you win the damages you deserve. Call 702-202-0500 or fill out our contact form.