Punitive Damages in a Los Angeles Personal Injury Claim

california punitive damages statute

When you file a personal injury claim, you probably know to list damages like medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Do you know that there’s another category, called punitive damages, that may apply to your case?

Punitive damages under California Civil Code section 3294 apply when a defendant has acted maliciously, fraudulently or with reckless disregard for your safety and the safety of others.

These damages are intended to punish a defendant and discourage others from exhibiting such behavior.

If you want to know when you can request punitive damages and how much of a punitive award you might receive, keep reading.

California Punitive Damages Statute

California law defines punitive damages under Civil Code Section 3294. Punitive damages punish a defendant who has acted with: 

  • Malice, such as an intent to harm;
  • Oppression, such as treating a person cruelly or unjustly; or
  • Fraud, such as deceiving or concealing something to cause harm.

The plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. This standard requires more proof than the usual “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) standard used for personal injury cases. You must convince the court that it is highly likely the defendant acted very badly.

Punitive Damages v. Compensatory Damages

In a personal injury case, damages refer to the physical, financial and emotional costs that result from the incident. These damages generally come in two different types, compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages pay a victim for the harm suffered in the incident. The damages can compensate the victim for both economic and non-economic harm.

  • Economic damages include financial harm such as medical bills, car repairs, and lost wages; and
  • Non-economic damages include more abstract harm like physical and mental pain and suffering, inconvenience, grief, loss of enjoyment of life or loss of companionship.

Save all medical receipts and other bills related to your accident. An attorney can tally these receipts and other accident harms to calculate your compensatory damages.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages apply to certain personal injury actions where the defendant exhibits terrible behavior, as defined in Civil Code 3294. As the name implies, this penalty is designed to punish the defendant. 

Punitive Damages Award Amounts

A judge or jury has broad discretion to set punitive damages amounts. The penalty amount assessed depends on the following factors:

  • The terrible nature of the defendant’s behavior,
  • A reasonable relationship between the amount of punitive damages and the degree of harm suffered,
  • The amount necessary to punish the defendant and deter others from committing such an act, and
  • The defendant’s financial resources.

In California, there is no cap on punitive damages, meaning a judge or jury can set any award amount. The United States Supreme Court recommends punitive damages not exceed compensatory damages by more than a “single-digit multiplier.” This means that punitive damages ten times or more greater than compensatory damages might be struck down as excessive.

Get Legal Advice for Your Personal Injury

If you suffered an injury due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a claim. A personal injury claim can help you get compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and other injuries. Your claim may also include punitive damages under Civil Code 3294 or other code sections if someone acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.

To find out more about what damages you can claim for your injury, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. At Starpoint Law, we pride ourselves on personalized, professional representation. You will have direct access to a lawyer during business hours. We advocate aggressively for the money you deserve, and we keep you informed with open communication throughout settlement negotiations. 

Contact us for a free consultation to go over your case. We’ll explain the California punitive damages statute and advise you on your legal options. Then we’ll advocate for a maximum damages award for what you’ve suffered. Find the help you need by contacting Starpoint Law today.

Author Photo

Aidin Ghavimi

Aidin is a partner at Starpoint LC, Attorneys at Law, and focuses on personal injury and employment law cases in and around Southern California. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the Loyola School of Law and his Bachelor’s from USC. Aidin’s primary goal is to bring justice to his clients and to ensure they are able to move on with their lives after a serious injury.

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