Punitive Damages: How Much Should You Ask For?

After an accident, you may deserve compensation for your medical bills, property damage, lost wages, pain and suffering. But what about punitive damages? When are punitive damages awarded and how much can you get? Our Colorado personal injury lawyers explain.

attorney punitive damages with client

What Are Punitive Damage?

Punitive damages refer to money that a guilty party may be required to pay in a personal injury claim. The compensation is meant to cover damages or injury due to the defendant’s egregious and offensive conduct. These payments don’t compensate the victim for their losses but instead penalize the defendant for serious misconduct.

Are Punitive Damages the Same As Pain and Suffering?

No. Punitive damages are based on the careless or dangerous conduct of the defendant as a form of punishment while a pain and suffering award addresses losses sustained by the victim.

Pain and Suffering Claim

Even if the defendant was guilty of ordinary negligence, a victim could claim considerable pain and suffering. The defendant’s degree of guilt doesn’t play a role in the amount of pain and suffering that the victim receives. Some examples of these types of damages include:

  • Physical pain
  • Mental suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disfigurement

Punitive Damages Cases

The amount of punitive damages directly relates to the defendant’s conduct and the type of damages caused. The purpose is to punish the defendant and deter future inappropriate behavior. Some examples include:

  • Malicious intent
  • Direct harm
  • Disregard for law (drunk driving)
  • Dangerous conduct (distracted driving)

These damages are directly related to the defendant’s conduct. It is meant for the very purpose of punishing the defendant and deterring the same behavior in the future. Punitive damages and pain and suffering are awarded for different reasons, and the criteria to award them are not the same.

teenager getting distracted by his passenger showing him a video while driving

What Is the Colorado Law for Punitive Damages?

Colorado law § CRS 13-21-1021 allows victims to claim damages if their injuries result from fraud, malice, or willful and wanton misconduct. The law creates a procedure for claims and limitations on the amount of an award.

For example, a car accident victim may claim punitive damages if the defendant’s gross negligence, recklessness, or willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others was the cause of the accident and need for medical care.

How Are Punitive Damages Calculated?

Three criteria that determine these damages include:

  1. The level of the defendant’s misconduct – Did they act out of fraud, malice, or a willful disregard of the safety of others?
  2. Compensatory damages awarded in the case – The court may award up to the actual amount of compensatory damages or up to three times the amount of compensatory damages if the defendant’s behavior meets aggravating criteria.
  3. Amount of damage done – The court may consider:
  • The cause of the accident
  • Purposeful acts by the defendant
  • Whether the defendant acted while intoxicated
  • Other crimes in the same course of action
  • If the parties had a personal history
  • The extent to which the defendant knew their conduct was reckless

Determining how much to ask for in punitive damages begins with evaluating whether the claim qualifies. If it qualifies, an amount is determined based on awarded compensatory damages and the nature of the defendant’s conduct.

How Much Punitive Damages Do You Get for Breach of Contract?

In Colorado, punitive damages are rarely awarded for a breach of contract claim, arbitration, or administrative proceedings. However, it’s best to consult with an experienced injury attorney to see if you may claim these damages in your breach of contract case.

What Are Some Notable Punitive Damages Examples in Colorado?

Recently, a jury awarded William “Trey” Harris, an assistant high-school basketball coach, punitive damages for $1 million2. The jury found that he was the victim of racial discrimination and received harmful comments from another staff member. The award was proportional to compensatory damages in the case, including non-economic damages.

Another case filed in May 2020 allowed the victim of a ski crash to pursue punitive damages3 and other compensation. A collision allegedly took place on a ski run where another skier was under the influence of an intoxicant and failed to yield to a downhill skier. The victim stated violations of the Colorado Ski Safety Act4.

hit and run ski accident getting help from a rescue helicopter

Attorneys for Personal Injury Cases

Wondering if you have a claim? Our law experts will look at your claim and talk about the necessary steps to help you claim maximum compensation. Contact Bachus & Schanker to see what types of damages are awarded in cases like yours.


1CRS. 13-21-102

2Smith, Logan (2 May 2021). Jury Awards Basketball Coach William ‘Trey’ Harris $2.5 Million In Racial Discrimination Case vs. CHSAA. 4 CBS Denver. Retrieved 16 December 2021.

3Carroll, Rick (25 June 2021). Judge’s ruling could be costly for skier sued over Aspen Highlands crash. The Aspen Times. Retrieved 16 December 2021.

4CRS 33-44-101 – CRS 33-44-114

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