Punitive Damages - Law 101
Hello, I'm attorney Kyle Bachus. The legal world is full of overly complicated jargon and terminology that can be intimidating if you don't know what it means. In my law 101 video series, I'm breaking down some commonly used legal terms so you can be informed and confident should you ever need to take legal action.
In this episode of law 101, we're going to break down the term punitive damages.
Now in another video, we talked about compensatory damages. Punitive damages are different than compensatory damages. Different in amount, and different in purpose. The biggest difference is purpose. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the person who caused the damages in the first place, and there are two reasons to punish them.
One is to inflict monetary punishment on them, to deter that person from acting in the manner again. And the second is societal, to send a message to society as a whole, that if you act in the manner that this particular person or company chose to act, you will be subjected to monetary punishment damages. Punitive damages are only available if the person causing the harm, the person who has acted unreasonably did so in a willful and wanton manner. Drunk driving is a perfect example.
If you choose to consume enough alcohol or drugs that you are intoxicated and you go out, and you cause harm to somebody. In addition to being subject to compensatory damages, you have now acted in a willful and wanton manner with disregard for the safety of others. In such a manner that society says we're going to punish you or allow the opportunity for a jury to punish you beyond just the compensatory damages. But to actually punish you with money, additional money, because of the way that you chose to act.
Some states have capped punitive damages. Some states have said you can't get punitive damages at all. In Colorado, you can get punitive damages if the person who caused the injury acted in a willful and wanton manner. But the total value of the punitive damages cannot exceed the total amount that you recovered in the compensatory damage category. So you look at in Colorado, if a jury were to give a much larger number in punitive damages than the compensatory damages, then after the verdict, the judge would reduce the award to equal, it's a second bucket, but to equal an amount no larger than what the compensatory damages are.
These damages are a special type of damages; there's a limited opportunity to bring them. If you have a situation where you believe somebody acted in a willful and wanton manner, and you have questions about whether one of the elements of damage that you might be able to recover are punitive damages, we're happy to answer those questions for you at Bachus & Schanker. To learn more about other law topics that can help you feel informed and confident about the law, make sure to check out more videos in this series.
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