In a personal injury case, you may be entitled to what are called compensatory damages, money intended to compensate you for your losses. But there is another type of award called punitive damages, meant to punish the party at fault and to deter similar conduct in the future.
It is possible for you to receive punitive damages for your injury, though this rarely happens. For punitive damages to be awarded, a personal injury case must meet certain conditions set by the law:
The Harm Must Be Willful And Malicious Or Reckless.
Punitive damages can only be awarded if the defendant’s action was intentional and malicious or reckless.
Many injuries are the result of accidents where the person at fault was simply negligent or had no intention of inflicting harm. For example, an at-fault driver in a car accident may have only been distracted for a moment while at the wheel. In such a case, the driver may have to pay the compensatory damages but is not likely to be punished with punitive damages.
But there are cases where the act was intentional or reckless. If, for instance, a person knowingly got intoxicated before having to drive, it can be reasoned that that person intentionally disregarded others’ safety, and thus may deserve to pay punitive damages.
The Case Must Not Be Of Medical Malpractice Or Wrongful Death.
In Illinois, medical malpractice law sets no limits or caps for how much a patient may receive in compensatory damages. However, it also prohibits patients from claiming punitive damages in a medical malpractice case.
Likewise, punitive damages are not available in wrongful death cases. According to Illinois law, the right to seek these damages belongs solely to the person who was harmed, and so, if that person has passed, the right to punitive damages also “does not survive.”
The Defendant Must Not Be A Local Government Entity.
Illinois has a law called the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, which, among others, protects local public entities or officials from having to pay punitive damages.
Compensatory Damages Must First Be Awarded.
Before a jury even considers the awarding of punitive damages, you must first prove that the defendant was liable and that you are entitled to compensation. This means that you have to win compensatory damages first.
With the narrow leeway to seek punitive damages in personal injury, it’s understandable that few injured persons pursue it and even fewer are awarded. But if you believe that your injury deserves these damages, talk to us at Willens & Baez so we can determine what you are entitled to.