How Do Punitive Damages Work?

how do punitive damages work

If you or a loved one sustains an injury caused by the actions of another individual, company, or entity in Illinois, there are likely various types of compensation you may be awarded for your losses. When most people think of compensation in these cases, they think of economic damages such as payment for medical bills, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Victims may also be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering. In some cases, however, punitive damages may also be awarded. In general, punitive damages are reserved for instances when the negligent party was grossly negligent or intentionally caused another person harm.

Illinois Laws on Punitive Damages

In Illinois, we can turn to jury instructions when looking to determine the purpose and nature of punitive damages. In Illinois’ civil court jury instructions, we can see that punitive damages are permitted under certain circumstances. Specifically, punitive damages may be awarded if they find that the conduct of a defendant in a case was fraudulent, intentional, willful and wanton, and that their actions caused the injury to the plaintiff.

The language goes on to state that the jury may award punitive damages if they believe that “justice and the public good require it” and if they believe that the punitive damages will discourage the defendant and others from conducting themselves in a similar manner in the future.

It should be noted that punitive damages are not allowed under Illinois law for medical and legal malpractice cases that result in the injury of the plaintiff. Additionally, punitive damages are not awarded in contract actions.

Examples of Punitive Damages?

  • Example one. RJ Reynolds is a company that produces tobacco products in the US. In 2014 the Robinson family filed a lawsuit against RJ Reynolds for the responsibility in the death of a family member as well as the associated suffering that was experienced. The family was awarded $16.9 million in compensatory damages for the case. Additionally, the jury in the case awarded the surviving family members $23.6 billion dollars in punitive damages (Robinson V. RJ Reynolds).
  • Example two. In 2008, an elderly woman named Genevieve Calandro died after a trip to the hospital from her nursing home. Calandro had fallen in the nursing home and was taken to the hospital, but it was quickly determined that she had been the victim of long-term abuse at the hands of her caretakers in this nursing home facility. She had uncontrolled diabetes, kidney failure, and extremely infected sores. Calandro’s family filed a lawsuit against Radius HealthCare Center. The family won substantial compensatory damages in the lawsuit as well as $14 million in punitive damages (Calandro V. Radius HealthCare Center).

How to Claim Punitive Damages in Your Suit

When working to claim punitive damages for a personal injury lawsuit, it is vital that you allow your Chicago injury lawyer to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. Skilled legal experts are better suited to properly understanding the nature of personal injury compensation and whether or not punitive damages should be sought for the case.

When working to claim punitive damages, it will be vital for an attorney to show a jury that the actions of the defendant were reprehensible. The jury must also see how the plaintiff was harmed by the defendant’s grossly negligent or intentional conduct. Finally, an attorney should stress that punitive damages are necessary to punish the defendant and discourage others from future wrongful conduct.

Punitive damages are not awarded in all personal injury cases. These damages are reserved for particularly egregious defendant conduct.