Punitive damages are a special category of damages. They are designed to punish bad conduct and deter similar conduct by others in cases where the Defendant’s actions are particularly outrageous. They are outside of the usual scope of damages in injury cases, which are intended to compensate the injured person for their harms and losses.
Whether or not your case could involve punitive damages depends on what type of case you have and the specific facts of your case. In some situations, punitive damages are not available under any circumstances. For example, punitive damages are expressly prohibited by statute in Illinois medical malpractice cases (735 ILCS 5/2-1115).
In Illinois, you cannot file a claim for punitive damages without first obtaining the permission of the court. This usually requires a Plaintiff to file a motion to amend their lawsuit and have a hearing where the judge would determine whether there is a likelihood of prevailing on punitive damages at trial. (735 ILCS 5/2-604.1)
Punitive damages are appropriate where the Defendant’s conduct goes beyond carelessness or negligence. A Plaintiff must show that the Defendant’s conduct was intentional, willful and wanton, or fraudulent, and that this conduct was the direct cause of the Plaintiff’s injury.
Factors that Illinois courts (and juries) consider when awarding punitive damages include:
- The facts and circumstances of the conduct of the Defendant;
- Whether the Defendant tried to conceal the wrongdoing;
- How financially vulnerable the Plaintiff was;
- The actual and potential harm the Defendant’s conduct caused (or could have caused);
- How long the misconduct went on;
- How frequently the misconduct occurred;
- The amount of money needed to punish the Defendant and deter future wrongs in light of the Defendant’s current financial condition; and
- Whether the Plaintiff’s harm was physical or economic.
Punitive damages are usually determined by a jury at trial and are not subject to any caps. While they are generally not part of an out-of-court settlement, the prospect of punitive damages can increase the settlement value of a case.
Your attorney can help you assess whether punitive damages would be appropriate in your case, and guide you through the process to obtain punitive damages if your case should go to trial.
The attorneys at Walsh, Knippen & Cetina, Chtd. have helped our clients recover substantial punitive damage awards in vehicle and truck crash cases, products liability cases and others.
Please give us a call or contact us online to schedule your free consultation and get started on your case today.