Are Punitive Damages Available in New York City Personal Injury Cases?

Although punitive damages are not generally awarded in personal injury cases, a jury may decide to grant them when the at-fault party behaved in a particularly reckless manner. They are meant to set an example that these actions come with steep financial consequences.

Next, these awards are only available if the case goes to trial, but not in an insurance settlement. The standard for awarding punitive damages is high. For example, even if someone was severely injured in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence– they did not intentionally cause the crash.

However, where a motorist, for example, deliberately drove their vehicle into another, this behavior is willful, wanton, and often criminal. The same holds for a drunk driver. Remember– any criminal charges against a defendant are separate from a civil action, such as a personal injury lawsuit.

Liebeck vs. McDonald’s

Perhaps the most famous example of punitive damages occurred nearly 30 years ago, in Liebeck vs. McDonald’s.  An older woman was severely burned when she spilled scalding hot McDonald’s coffee on her legs and was awarded $3 million. While some decried the case as a frivolous lawsuit, the woman spent a great deal of time in the hospital. She suffered third-degree burns, which required skin grafts, and never regained full mobility.

McDonald’s had more than 700 cases of severe burning from their coffee, and many were settled. The company offered Liebeck a small amount, and when she sued, and the jurors heard the case, a large sum was awarded. It was later reduced on appeal, and Liebeck received a confidential settlement from McDonald’s.

No cap on punitive damages

As with compensatory damages in New York, there is no cap on punitive damages. When they are awarded, the amount is usually substantial. This not only helps the plaintiff with pain and suffering but serves as a deterrent to other parties that might engage in willful behavior.

A New York City personal injury lawyer from Douglas and London can help you receive the maximum compensation for your injuries and can seek punitive damages at trial– if your claim warrants them.

Definition of such damages

Punitive damages are appropriate when the at-fault party showed a “high degree of moral turpitude,” as per a 2007 New York State Appeals Court decision in Ross vs. Louise Wise Services, Inc.  Moral turpitude is “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community,” according to its legal definition.

Of course, the plaintiff may recover the compensatory damages available in any lawsuit. These include:

  • Medical expenses, present, and future
  • Lost wages
  • Future loss of earnings
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

A standard rule of thumb is that any punitive damages are ten times the amount of compensatory damages, but this is not the law. The jury takes into consideration injury severity, the recklessness of the defendant’s actions, and how much to award– to send a message that this behavior is intolerable.

Punitive damages in context

Besides being hit by a driver under the influence, examples which may qualify for punitive damages include:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Actions that are criminal by the defendant
  • A precedent for such awards in similar cases

Punitive damages usually involve a corporation as the defendant, as most at-fault individuals do not have enough assets.

Contact Douglas and London today

If you or a loved one were severely injured in a motor vehicle accident in which the other driver’s actions were truly egregious, you might receive punitive damages in a trial.

A personal injury lawyer at Douglas and London can evaluate your case and lets you know your options. Whether or not punitive damages are a possibility, we will protect your rights and hold those responsible for your injuries accountable.

Schedule a free consultation by calling or texting 24/7 or submitting our online form. Our experienced attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for injured clients in settlements and verdicts. If we do not win compensation for you, there is no fee. Hablamos Español.