What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are non-compensatory damages awarded in some personal injury cases. The damages “punish” a defendant for egregious behavior. Even though punitive damages are a way of punishing the defendant, the injured party receives the monetary award. 

Some injured victims are entitled to punitive damages in addition to their compensatory damages. Compensatory damages include economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. They also include non-economic damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. 

What Is the Purpose of Punitive Damages?

What Is the Purpose of Punitive Damages?

A jury may award punitive damages to deter the defendant from engaging in the same or similar behavior in the future. In addition, punitive damages can deter other individuals from engaging in activities similar to the defendant’s conduct. 

The United States Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of punitive damages in personal injury cases. Even though the purposes of punitive damages are to punish and deter, the defendant must be afforded due process. The Court ruled that a ratio of nine to one for the amount awarded for punitive damages was appropriate except in the worst cases. 

What Is Nevada’s Law Regarding Punitive Damages?

Nevada Revised Statute §42.005 states that a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant is guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice” to recover exemplary damages and punitive damages. Clear and convincing evidence is a higher burden of proof than a preponderance of the evidence, which is the required level of proof for a personal injury case. However, it is not as high of a bar to meet as beyond a reasonable doubt used in a criminal case. 

The statutes define fraud, malice, and oppression as:

  • Fraud is the intentional deception, misrepresentation, or concealment of a material fact by the defendant with the intent to deprive the plaintiff of their legal rights or otherwise injure the person.
  • Express or implied malice is conduct intended to injure someone or “despicable conduct” the defendant engages in with a conscious disregard for the safety and rights of other people.
  • Oppression is engaging in despicable conduct with a conscious disregard for another person’s rights that subjects the person to unjust and cruel hardship.

Punitive damages can be awarded in various types of personal injury cases, including car accidents and medical malpractice cases. However, punitive damages are capped in most personal injury cases.

What Are the Nevada Caps for Punitive Damages?

State law places a cap (maximum amount) on punitive damages. In most personal injury cases, the cap on punitive damages is:

  • If the compensatory damages for the plaintiff are less than $100,000, the punitive damages cap is $300,000; OR,
  • If the compensatory damages for the plaintiff are $100,000 or more, the punitive damages cap is three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the case.

Jurors are not informed of the above caps on punitive damages. Instead, they are only instructed to determine if punitive damages are warranted and, if so, the amount of punitive damages they believe is fair and reasonable to award. If the amount the jury awards exceeds the cap, the judge reduces the punitive damage award. 

There are some exceptions to caps for punitive damages in Nevada. There are no caps on punitive damages in cases involving:

  • A DUI accident that was caused by a driver who willfully consumed alcohol and/or drugs;
  • Defective product claims against manufacturers, sellers, or distributors;
  • Defamation cases;
  • Injury or damages caused by the disposal, emission, or spilling of radioactive, toxic, or hazardous waste or materials; and,
  • Insurance companies acting in bad faith regarding obligations to provide insurance coverage.

There could be another exception. In some cases, violations of federal or state laws prohibiting discriminatory housing practices could result in punitive damages. The facts and circumstances of the case determine whether punitive damages are justified. 

If you are suing an employer for the wrongful acts of an employee, you must prove that the employer:

  • Knew the employee was a risk to others;
  • Authorized or approved of the employee’s wrongful conduct; and,
  • Was personally guilty of fraud, oppression, or malice.

Proving punitive damages requires that you first prove your personal injury claim. You must prove the party owed you a duty of care, breached that duty, the breach of duty caused your injury, and caused damages. Once you prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence, you must prove the elements of the punitive damage case with clear and convincing evidence. 

Call Us To Schedule a Free Consultation With a Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney

Our legal team carefully analyzes your case to determine the types of damages you can receive for a personal injury claim. We fight to recover maximum compensation for all damages, including punitive damages if applicable. Contact our law firm Battle Born Injury Lawyers calling at (702) 570-9000 to schedule your free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.