Punitive Damages In Personal Injury Cases

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Though personal injury laws vary from state-to-state, mostly all involve an injured party seeking financial compensation or damages from the individual or entity who harmed them.  The goal of financial compensation is to make the injured party “whole.”  Personal injury laws are called “torts” and are valued in civil courts.  A small list of personal injury cases include:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Slip and fall cases
  • Medical malpractice cases
  • Boating accidents
  • Amusement park injuries
  • Defective product injuries

Compensatory Damages

All injured persons can seek compensatory damages.  In North Carolina, there are two types:

  1. Economic: losses the injured person can actually quantify through medical bills, loss of income records, property repair receipts, or anything that documents a measurable loss.
  2. Non-Economic: losses the injured party cannot actually quantify.  They include emotional distress (e.g. anxiety, fear, sleep disturbances), loss of consortium (physical and emotional harm to marital relationship), and loss of enjoyment (e.g. the injured party is no longer doing the things they did before they were injured).  These non-economic losses are often grouped together as “Pain and Suffering.”

Punitive Damages

North Carolina also allows certain injured parties (as well as plaintiffs in wrongful death matters) to recover punitive damages.  Again, personal injury matters mostly aim to make the injured party “whole,” not punish the individual or entity (defendant) who harmed them.  Chapter 1D of the North Carolina General Statutes, entitled, Punitive Damages (the statute), however, allows injured parties to also seek non-criminal fines to punish the defendant for harming them and to prevent them and others from carrying out the same types of acts.

The statute allows for punitive damages only if the injured party can prove that the defendant was responsible for paying compensatory damages and that one of the following aggravating factors existed and connected to their injury:

  1. Fraud: an intentional falsification of a future or past fact, rendered with knowledge of its falseness, with a desire to deceive, on which the injured party relied upon to their harm.
  2. Malice: a personal feeling of ill will toward the injured party, which caused the defendant to act in the manner that caused the injured party’s harm.
  3. Wanton or willful conduct: the deliberate indifference to others’ safety and rights, which the defendant knew or should have known would reasonably lead to injury.

The statute limits punitive damages to three times the compensatory damages amount or

$250,000, whichever is larger.  Should a jury return a higher amount, the judge will reduce the award to the maximum allowed amount.

If you have questions about a personal injury matter, book an appointment with us and we will discuss your compensatory damages and examine whether you have any punitive damages.  Email or call us at (704) 870-4779.

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