If you were injured due to someone else’s negligence, you could be entitled to compensation. During your personal injury case, your lawyer will demonstrate the damages that occurred were a result of the defendant’s negligent actions. In rare circumstances, this could include punitive damages, also called exemplary damages. It’s important to understand how this type of compensation works and whether it could be applicable to your case.
Punitive Damages vs Compensatory Damages
In the majority of personal injury cases where the court awards damages, there will be only compensatory damages. These can be economic (such as medical bills or lost wages) or non-economic (such as pain and suffering). The court will determine the amount of compensatory damages based on the physical, emotional, and financial impacts of the injury on the plaintiff. The goal is generally to restore the plaintiff to the position they were in before the accident.
Punitive damages are different because the goal is not to compensate the plaintiff, although the plaintiff does receive these funds. Instead, the court uses punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter others from acting similarly. The court assesses and awards these damages separately from any compensatory damages.
When Are Punitive Damages Applicable?
The Arizona Supreme Court has established that punitive damages are only appropriate for cases where the defendant acted with an “evil hand and evil mind.” This can happen in two different ways. The first is if the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff. For example, this could apply if they rear-ended the plaintiff’s car due to road rage.
The second type of situation where the idea of an “evil hand and evil mind” could apply is if the defendant acted in a manner that was so negligent that he or she would have or should have known that it was very likely someone would get hurt. Drunk drinking is one example of this. An individual who chooses to drive while intoxicated is not necessarily trying to hurt someone, but a reasonable person would be aware that this is a reckless decision that could result in serious injury.
Overlap Between Personal Injury and Criminal Cases
In some situations, a personal injury case with possible punitive damages can overlap with a criminal case. If a drunk driver injured you, you could pursue a civil case against them. At the same time, the state would likely be pursuing a criminal case. The criminal case does not prevent you from pursuing a personal injury case. However, it can make the situation more complicated. This is one reason why working with an experienced attorney is important.
What Insurance Companies Will and Won’t Pay
Another factor that complicates cases with potential punitive damages is that the defendant, not their insurance company, pays punitive damages. The financial condition and net worth of the defendant can limit the amount of punitive damages. This is in addition to other legal precedents in Arizona that may limit the monetary award in these types of cases. In addition to the punitive damages themselves, insurance companies do not typically cover any situations where the insured party intentionally causes damage. As a result, even compensatory damages are often the responsibility of the defendant in these cases.
The Rarity of Punitive Damages
The bottom line is that punitive damages are very rare in Arizona. Specific criteria must be present and even if the injury does meet the definition of “evil hand and evil mind,” actually getting the financial compensation can be more complicated than for other cases. One of our experienced personal injury lawyers can discuss the facts of your case with you and can help you determine what types of damages are reasonable for your situation. We will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.