What Happens to the At-Fault Party in a Personal Injury Claim?
In many personal injury claims, the claimant simply wants to collect benefits that pay for their treatment and other financial losses, such as lost wages. Once they are able to collect that amount, they may be able to go on leading a normal life. However, in other cases, the person or business at fault for causing serious injuries may be found extremely negligent.
If this happens, juries may award punitive damages to the plaintiff. This money is not intended to pay for any losses, but instead, punitive damages are meant to discourage the at-fault party from engaging in the same behavior in the future.
How Do Punitive Damages Help Injured Victims?
In Florida and many other states, victims of serious injuries may be awarded punitive damages. This type of award is meant to punish the defendant by causing them some financial damage. A judge saying "don't let it happen again" might not get the message across, but demanding the wrongdoer to pay more money could teach a lesson.
Punitive damages are different from other awards in personal injury claims, which aim to compensate the victim for their hardships and injuries. Even though they are not meant to directly benefit the plaintiff, part of the punitive damages may be awarded to them.
High-Profile Lawsuits in an Injury Claim
A jury may award punitive damages in an injury or liability lawsuit that involves a powerful defendant. If a major company neglects to warn its customers of a potential danger, they could be putting thousands, maybe even millions of people at risk. Unfortunately, a large amount of punitive damages, sometimes into the millions of dollars, may be the only way to have them correct this negligent behavior.
The case of Betty Bullock vs. Philip Morris is a good example of how punitive damages work. Ms. Bullock brought her case against Philip Morris in 2002, stating that the company failed to warn her of smoking's harmful effects before she became addicted at age 17. When she was 63, she was diagnosed with cancer that had started in her lungs. Her basis of asking for--and ultimately being awarded--punitive damages was that the company acted negligently by not warning her before this lifelong addiction began.
Philip Morris was ordered to pay $28 billion in punitive damages. Being the top cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris has many customers in America and the rest of the world. The jury in this trial might have seen the case as an opportunity to show Philip Morris and the tobacco industry that they need to adequately warn their customers of the dangers of smoking. Because the decision was so large, it was appealed and brought back to court.
How Do Punitive Damages Work in Injury Claims?
Few of us will ever have a claim against a large company or entity. Instead, many people have to deal with accidents or injuries on a smaller scale, but they also have devastating effects. In the course of a personal injury or car accident case, a jury mayaward punitive damages.
Unfortunately, accidents due to drunk driving can also result in wrongful death of passengers or other drivers. The case could require payments for related medical bills, property damage, and death benefits. A jury may also find it necessary that the defendant pay punitive damages. In this example, the drunk driver's extremely negligent actions killed a person and caused serious anguish to their family. In order to prevent this behavior in the future, the defendant may have to pay a hefty fine.