What are punitive damages?

Most of the time, an accident means exactly that – the incident was purely accidental, and although a judge or jury may have found someone at fault, usually that person had no intention of hurting anyone. However, in some cases, an accident resulted from willful or knowledgeable negligence. You and other Kentucky residents who have suffered an injury may find it useful to understand the differences between civil and punitive damages.

If you receive compensation from the responsible party after an accident, such as a car crash, this is usually a civil matter, as long as there was no criminal action – such as drunk driving – involved. However, the court may award punitive damages for the following unusual circumstances:

  • The responsible party’s behavior was especially negligent or harmful, such as a person who was purposefully driving erratically and caused an accident.
  • There was clear evidence that the negligent person or company showed a wanton or reckless disregard for others’ safety or personal property.
  • The judge believed that awarding punitive damages to the injured party would serve as a punishment to the wrongdoer and a lesson to others.

A recent tragedy illustrated an example in which an accident might qualify for punitive damages. A 2-year-old girl who was at a Payless ShoeSource with her mother and brother was killed when a full-length wall mirror fell on top of her. Initial investigations showed that the person who installed the mirror had not properly secured it. Since the accident was so recent, the outcome of the incident is unknown. However, you can imagine how punitive damages could be a possibility if it is determined that store staff knew about the problem with the mirror before the accident but did nothing to resolve it.

An award for punitive damages would be in addition to the civil damages you receive for your injuries. If you believe willful negligence was involved in your accident, it would be worth mentioning to your attorney.

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O'Brien Batten & Kirtley, PLLC

O'Brien Batten & Kirtley, PLLC
921 Beasley Street
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Lexington, KY 40509

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