In personal injury lawsuits, many of the damages awarded are compensatory and meant to cover expenses such as lost income and medical bills, as well as general pain and suffering. However, in some cases, courts also award punitive damages to penalize willfully harmful behavior.
Learning about punitive damages in personal injury cases can help survivors and families understand their options.
Seeking punitive damages
In general, most personal injury lawsuits do not result in punitive damages. However, there are exceptional cases. For example, when the defendant is a corporation or larger organization, the case outcome is more likely to include punitive damages. This is because punitive damages are often exemplary and intended to discourage others from similar misconduct. For instance, a product liability suit brought against the manufacturer of faulty equipment could motivate other companies to raise safety standards. Punitive damages can also impact individual defendants, such as in cases of medical malpractice or reckless driving.
Willful or wanton misconduct
Illinois law limits punitive damages to cases that involve intentional wrongdoing. There must be a willful disregard for safety or otherwise gross negligence that contributed to the incident. For example, if a driver is involved in street racing, crashes into another car and kills someone, the court might consider this behavior to be wanton misconduct as the driver knowingly engaged in dangerous actions. Employers who require workers to use poorly maintained or broken equipment are also willfully negligent of employee safety. Finally, punitive damages might be more likely if the misconduct is part of an ongoing pattern.
Although it is not common for injury cases to lead to punitive damages for the plaintiff, sometimes courts award them to punish misconduct and deter dangerous behavior.