If you are harmed in an accident, you are entitled to compensation from the parties responsible for your injury. Sometimes, holding them accountable for the costs of an injury is not enough in the eyes of the court. Some cases qualify for extra damages known as punitive damages.
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Damages refer to compensation that an injury victim can receive because of an accident. There are three general types of damages in most personal injury cases: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are the most common and direct type of damages. Economic damages arise from costs and expenses that someone incurs because of an accident. They can include things like medical bills, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs — in the past and in the future.
Non-economic damages are less common but can be significant. They are often available when someone has suffered a severe or long-lasting injury. These damages compensate injury victims for the emotional, non-financial harms of an accident, including pain and suffering and mental anguish. Courts will often use different formulas to determine non-economic damages.
These are the least common forms of damages. Punitive damages punish the responsible party for their misconduct. They do not compensate the injury victim for any losses.
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant and serve as deterrence to any similar misconduct. These damages are generally not available for regular accidents in Massachusetts.
Punitive damages put the focus on the person or organization that is responsible for the accident or death. They are similar to a fine. The court will impose the damages on the responsible party based on conduct that led to the accident or death.
By doing so, the court seeks to deter others from acting the same way. Punitive damages are uncommon.
In many states, punitive damages are available for most personal injury claims where the defendant acted with wanton disregard for a victim’s safety. Massachusetts, however, does not allow punitive damages in most cases. Massachusetts only allows punitive damages when authorized by state law.
Punitive damages are sometimes available in wrongful death claims. The Massachusetts wrongful death statute allows punitive damages if a wrongful death occurred due to “malicious, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct of the defendant or by gross negligence of the defendant.” To be awarded punitive damages, you will have to prove that someone died because of the conduct described.
Most injury victims only have to prove their damages by a preponderance of the evidence. This means they must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused their injury and related losses. Attorneys sometimes refer to this as proving your case by 51%.
In most states, punitive damages have a higher standard of proof. To recover these damages, you must prove you deserve them by clear and convincing evidence. This standard is much higher than a preponderance of the evidence but lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in criminal cases.
In many states, there are caps on punitive damage awards. Punitive damage caps exist to prevent huge awards by emotional juries. Most claims don’t qualify for punitive damages in Massachusetts. The ones that do can be eligible for uncapped punitive damages.
Interestingly, Massachusetts law sets a minimum punitive damage award of $5,000 but no maximum. This leaves juries to determine the appropriate amount for punitive damages in a given case.
Determining what level of punitive damages can be tricky and difficult to calculate. If you are having trouble determining the appropriate amount of punitive damages in your case, help is available.
If you are curious about what types of monetary damages you might be entitled to, contact a Boston personal injury attorney. An attorney can evaluate your damages to determine the full extent of your losses. They can also work with economic experts to strengthen your claim for damages. Call (617)-391-9001 to talk to the attorneys at Sweeny Merrigan Law.