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Punitive Damages in a California Personal Injury Case

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

It is possible to get an award of punitive damages in a personal injury case in California, but actually receiving an award of punitive damages is rare because of the high burden of proof under California law. Simple negligence can be enough for you to win compensatory damages in a personal injury case, but you will have to show the court shocking wrongful conduct on the part of the defendant to win punitive damages.

A California personal injury attorney can fight for you to get the money damages you deserve and answer your questions about punitive damages in a California personal injury case.

How Punitive Damages Are Different from Other Types of Money Damages in Personal Injury Cases

The typical sorts of money damages a person might seek after getting hurt because of someone else’s negligence are compensatory damages, like lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. The term “compensatory damages” means that the purpose of this money is to compensate the injured person for their losses and the unpleasant experiences they had to endure because the defendant was careless.

Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not linked directly to the amount of harm the plaintiff suffered but rather, how shockingly awful the defendant’s behavior was. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant and deter them and others from this kind of behavior in the future. 

Also, if the defendant has deep pockets, they are more likely to get hit with an order to pay punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. There is little point in assessing punitive damages against someone who can never pay them, particularly since many insurance policies do not pay punitive damages.

What We Have to Prove for Punitive Damages

California requires the injured person to show that the at-fault party: 

  • Committed intentional harm 
  • Engaged in reckless, dangerous conduct without regard to the possible harm to others, or
  • Exercised malice or fraud

It is one thing to accidentally harm someone, but it is something else entirely if someone callously causes harm to others maliciously. Society could become a dangerous, chaotic place if people could intentionally harm others without severe consequences.

For purposes of punitive damages in personal injury cases, fraud usually refers to a company that intentionally conceals facts about things like the safety or effectiveness of a product to induce people to buy it. When that product harms someone, proving that deception or misrepresentation could justify an award of punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages.

The term oppression gets misunderstood often in the context of punitive damages for personal injury cases. An example of oppression that could justify an award of punitive damages would be if the owner of a restaurant threatened to fire employees who followed safety protocols like throwing away expired food, and a third party got injured as a result. Putting money ahead of the safety of others can convince a jury to award punitive damages. You will want to talk to a California personal injury attorney right away if you think you might have a personal injury claim while there is still enough evidence to win your case. Contact our office today for help with your case, we gladly offer a free consultation.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.