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What Are Punitive Damages & Why Are They Important?

Posted on February 6, 2023 in

Individuals who sustain injuries caused by the negligence of others are typically able to recover various types of compensation. Usually, this revolves around compensable losses such as medical bills, lost wages, and various types of pain and suffering damages. However, there are times when punitive damages may be awarded to those who sustain injuries caused by others. Here, we want to define punitive damages and explain why they are important in certain situations.

What are punitive damages and why are they important_

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Punitive damages, also referred to as exemplary damages, are not awarded in all cases. Under Colorado law, civil courts can award punitive damages if the plaintiff can prove one of the following factors:

  1. Fraud. This means that the defendant deceived or somehow tricked the victim.
  2. Malice. This would mean that the defendant intentionally caused harm or attempted to cause harm to the victim.
  3. Willful or wanton conduct. This refers to the defendant acting with reckless disregard for the safety and health of others, even though they knew about the potential dangers of their actions.

For a personal injury claim, punitive damages are typically awarded if the plaintiff can prove malice or willful and wanton conduct. 

In a Colorado personal injury claim, plaintiffs are not allowed to claim punitive damages when they file their initial complaint. However, the court can determine that the plaintiff is eligible for exemplary damages if there is enough evidence uncovered during the discovery phase to support these types of damages. The court will instruct the jury about how to award these damages.

What Do Punitive Damages Do?

Punitive damages are meant to send a signal to the defendant as well as to others. For the defendant, punitive damages are meant to serve as a punishment, an additional monetary loss they will have to sustain as a result of their actions.

These damages can also send a signal to any other party in the state that the types of actions displayed in this particular case are not acceptable. Punitive damages can be a deterrent.

How Much Are Punitive Damages?

Currently, there is a limitation on how much punitive damages can be awarded for a particular case. The total punitive damage award amount cannot exceed the amount of “actual damages” awarded in the case. For instance, if a plaintiff is awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages), then they will be able to recover up to $300,000 in punitive damages.

However, there is a way for the court to increase the amount of punitive damages to up to three times the amount of compensable damages if one of the following factors is true:

  1. The defendant has continued to display willful and wanton conduct or repeated the action against the victim or another party during the course of the case, or
  2. The defendant has continued to act in a willful and wanton manner in a way that further aggravates the damages to the plaintiff.

We encourage any person who has been injured due to the negligence of others to ask their attorney whether or not punitive damages are an option for their case. An attorney will help guide injury victims toward the best possible path of recovering compensation for their losses.