At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we represent people who have suffered severe injuries in accidents, including motor vehicle collisions, and medical malpractice claims. We offer our potential new clients a free case evaluation. At the case evaluation, we will listen to the facts of your case and your story. After learning the facts of your case, we will advise you as to whether you might have a legitimate claim in a personal injury lawsuit.
Successful plaintiffs are entitled to several different types of damages, including economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Punitive damages are only available in certain cases. Understanding punitive damages will help you understand the types of compensation to which you might be entitled.What are Punitive Damages in North Carolina?
Many people confuse punitive damages with damages for pain and suffering. Pain and suffering fall into general damages, and they are not punitive in nature. Punitive damages are also distinguished as damages that are intended to "punish a defendant for egregiously wrongful acts and to deter the defendant and others from committing similar wrongful acts."
Under North Carolina laws, the purpose of awarding punitive damages is to punish the defendant for an egregious act. It is also to deter or prevent the plaintiff from committing acts similar to the defendant in the future. North Carolina courts can award punitive damages in addition to special and general damages.Will I Receive Punitive Damages?
As a plaintiff, your lawyer will need to prove that the defendant should be punished with punitive damages. You will need to prove that you are entitled to compensatory damages. To do so, you will need to prove that the defendant performed a wrongful act that caused you damages. You will need to prove either malice or willful or wanton conduct.
Malice happens when someone has a "sense of personal ill will toward the claimant that activated or incited the defendant to perform the act or undertake the conduct that resulted in the harm to the plaintiff." You will not need to prove that the malice is expressed. You can prove that it is implied via the circumstances that surround the wrongful act.
Willful and wanton conduct includes "conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others, which the defendant knows or should know is reasonably likely to result in injury, damage, or other harm." The statute goes on to explain that willful or wanton conduct requires more than just gross negligence. You will need to prove an act that shocks the conscience. One example of that act is drunk driving.
When the defendant commits fraud, the court can award punitive damages to the plaintiff. Fraud includes the intentional misrepresentation of a past or future fact. You will need to prove that the defendant engaged in fraud with knowledge of its falsity and with the intent to deceive. The plaintiff must prove that he or she relied on the false information provided to his or her detriment.Factors Courts Use to Determine Punitive Damages
Courts use several factors to determine punitive damages, including the following:
- The reprehensibility of the motives and conduct of the defendant
- The likelihood of serious harm at the relevant time
- The degree of the defendant's awareness of the consequences that would have probably happened due to his or her conduct
- The duration of the defendant's conduct
- The actual damages the claimant suffered
- Any concealment by the defendant of the consequences or facts
- The frequency and existence of any similar past conduct engaged in with the defendant
- Whether the defendant profited from the conduct
- The ability of the defendant to pay punitive damages
North Carolina is one of several states that caps, or limits, punitive damages. The total amount of punitive damages cannot exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $250,000, whichever amount is greater. When the jury issues an amount of punitive damages that is higher than the limit, the court is legally required to reduce the amount to comply with North Carolina law.Contact Our Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers Today
If you have suffered a severe personal injury, it is important that you hire an extremely experienced lawyer. Your lawyer will help you fight for all of the damages to which you are entitled, including punitive damages. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC as soon as possible to schedule your free initial consultation. After reviewing the facts of your case, we will help you determine the best legal strategy going forward.