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New York's Punitive Damages Laws


Personal injury cases can be difficult to manage. On one hand, someone has been hurt and needs compensation. On the other, everyone involved must navigate legal complexities.

Moreover, the act of harm can be egregious or downright malicious. These harmful acts make the case personal. When someone is hurt by willful or grossly negligent behavior, the case can result in punitive damages.

In this article, we take a broad look at punitive damages laws and how they can affect a personal injury case in New York.

What are Punitive Damages?

In a personal injury case, the plaintiff makes a claim against the defendant. They are asking the defendant to compensate them for the harm they suffered. This compensation is called “damages.”

“Economic damages” directly pay the plaintiff back for the injury-related expenses. These damages can include medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. “Non-economic” damages compensate the plaintiff for more abstract losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship.

Punitive damages do not compensate the plaintiff for damages they’ve suffered. Instead, they are strictly designed to punish the defendant, and they send a message that others should avoid similar behaviors. These damages reflect a defendant’s degree of culpability and the egregiousness of their actions.

New York’s Approach to Punitive Damages

To receive punitive damages, the plaintiff must show clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, wanton disregard, or recklessness that borders on criminal behavior. This stringent standard helps make sure punitive damages are not frivolous. Instead, they serve as a sharp legal instrument. New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) specifically addresses punitive damages.

When awarding punitive damages, the court must consider:

  • The defendant’s financial condition
  • The nature and extent of the injury
  • The character of the defendant’s behavior

This legal scaffolding gives judges and juries a guide for awarding an appropriate amount for punitive damages.

The Pros and Cons of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages can deter egregious behavior. They set a severe financial consequence, dissuading similar future conduct. Civil courts do not dole out criminal consequences, so punitive damages can serve as a societal retribution. They punish defendants who engage in particularly harmful acts, providing a sense of justice to the victims.

However, punitive damages are unpredictable and inconsistent. Courts can use their discretion when ruling on these punishments. This subjectivity can lead to excessive verdicts that overly burden defendants, and other defendants who do the same thing could be lightly punished. Moreover, punitive damages can create an economic incentive for filing lawsuits. Plaintiffs can be driven by the pursuit of money rather than the pursuit of justice.

Punitive Damages Strategies

When seeking punitive damages in your personal injury case, planning is key. You and your lawyer must collect evidence that proves how the defendant crossed the line. Remember, New York has rigid punitive damages standards, so you must be prepared to make a strong case.

Often, it is helpful to look into criminal charges alongside your lawsuit. Showing the court that the defendant could face criminal charges helps strengthen your case.

Caps and Restrictions

Some states impose caps on these damages. New York does not. Because there are no restrictions, the state is very careful about awarding these damages. They are reserved for special cases. A plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with malice or wanton dishonesty.

Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court mandates that punitive damages be reasonable and proportionate. Typically, the amount can be no more than ten times the compensatory damages.

If you are seeking punitive damages for your injuries, you need an attorney who can help you build a strong case. Law Office of Seni Popat, P.C. is here to guide you through a personal injury claim. To meet with our team, call our office at (718) 340-3385 or contact us online.

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