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What are Punitive Damages?

May 11, 2021

Anytime an individual is injured due to the careless or negligent actions of another person, business, or entity, they should be entitled to compensation for their injuries and other losses. There may be various types of compensation available in these situations, but what we usually find is that injury victims are able to secure coverage of their economic and non-economic losses. This includes compensation for things like medical bills, lost income, property damage, pain and suffering damages, and more. However, there are some cases where punitive damages may be awarded. Here, we want to define punitive damages and discuss when these damages may be awarded in a personal injury case.

Punitive Damages in a Kentucky Personal Injury Case Are Rare

Punitive damages are in a category of their own when it comes to personal injury cases. These are not considered compensatory damages, which means they are not designed to pay compensation to a victim for the injuries or other losses they sustained in an incident. Instead, Kentucky punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishing the at-fault party and acting as a deterrent to any other individuals or entities who may display similar conduct in the future.

In order to justify punitive damages in a Kentucky personal injury case, a plaintiff and their attorney need to show that the at-fault party’s conduct was the result of:

  • Fraud. This would mean that the at-fault party intentionally misrepresented or concealed material facts known to the defendant and made with the intention of harming the plaintiff.
  • Oppression. This refers to conduct that was specifically intended by the defendant to cause cruel and unjust hardship to the plaintiff.
  • Malice. This means that the conduct of the at-fault party was specifically intended to cause either tangible or intangible injuries to the plaintiff. This can also mean that the conduct of the defendant was carried out with blatant indifference to the rights of the plaintiff and with the awareness that their conduct would result in injuries or death.

When we look at these three ways to justify punitive damages, we will see that most punitive damages awarded in personal injury cases will be awarded based on the “malice” of the defendant.

Calculating Punitive Damages

Properly calculating punitive damages can be challenging, and these calculations will not be based on how much an injury victim receives in compensatory damages in the case. There are various factors that will be used to determine the appropriate amount of punitive damages and a Kentucky personal injury case, including the following:

  • The defendant’s assets
  • How much harm the punitive damages may deter in the future
  • The nature and character of the defendant’s conduct
  • The actual harm suffered by the injury victim in the case

In most situations, punitive damages are not awarded; when they are, the amounts awarded can range anywhere from relatively small payouts to significant awards that eclipse the actual compensatory damages in the case.

What is the Punitive Damage Cap in Kentucky?

In many states throughout the country, there are limitations on how much money can be awarded in punitive damages. However, Kentucky does not place any such limits on punitive damages for personal injury claims. The total punitive damage award amount will be decided by a jury after the jury decides how much to award for economic and non-economic compensation to the injury victim.