Most lawsuits involve some degree of compensatory damages designed to make up for the plaintiff’s losses and injuries. Punitive damages are separate from more common compensatory damages, and they are often harder for plaintiffs to get.
Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants for their behavior. Even though these damages are paid to plaintiffs, they do not actually make up for any specific losses suffered by the plaintiff. In the State of New York, there are no statutory limits or caps on punitive damages, and they may be as high as a judge or jury deems necessary. However, punitive damages tend to be very hard to prove and are rarely awarded. To get punitive damages, plaintiffs typically must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice or a high degree of moral turpitude. This is a very high bar and is far beyond ordinary negligence. To get the greatest punitive damages possible for your case, you need strong evidence of the defendant’s shocking behavior.
Schedule a review of your case for free with our New York personal injury attorneys by calling The Martello Law Firm, PLLC at (914) 685-6950.
What Are Punitive Damages in New York State?
Pinning down punitive damages in New York is challenging as there are few statutes pertaining to punitive damages. Instead, many rules regarding punitive damages and how they are awarded are rooted in common law and case law. Even so, punitive damages in New York are similar to punitive or exemplary damages in many other states.
In New York, punitive damages are damages awarded as a way to punish defendants. As such, punitive damages are only awarded in cases where the defendant’s behavior is particularly shocking or heinous. The courts do not automatically consider punitive damages when you file a lawsuit. For the court to consider punitive damages, plaintiffs must plead for punitive damages specifically in their initial complaints.
It is important to note that punitive damages are not the same as compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are the typical damages available in most injury lawsuits and are comprised of economic and non-economic losses and injuries. Compensatory damages, as their name suggests, compensate plaintiffs for the things they have lost or the injuries they endured. Since punitive damages are awarded only as a punishment for defendants, plaintiffs do not have a legal right to them. Even when plaintiffs believe they have a valid claim for punitive damages, the court does not have to award them.
Are There Limits on Punitive Damages in New York State?
One big question many plaintiffs have about punitive damages is how high punitive damages awards can be. Since punitive damages are not assessed based on measurable losses by the plaintiff, determining how much they should be worth can be difficult. New York has no statutory limits or caps on punitive damages. This means that courts and juries may award punitive damages as high as they deem necessary.
Since the State of New York does not cap punitive damages by statute, they can be quite considerable in serious cases. If the defendant’s behavior was extreme or malicious, a court might award very high punitive damages as a hefty penalty for the defendant’s behavior.
Determining how high punitive damages awards might be in any given case is difficult because the plaintiff has no say in the matter. Our Westchester personal injury lawyers can help you argue for punitive damages, but the jury ultimately decides whether or to award these damages and how much they should be worth.
How to Prove Punitive Damages in New York State
According to New York common law and case law, punitive damages are usually awarded if plaintiffs can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with willful or wanton negligence or a high degree of moral turpitude. While these terms sound somewhat extreme, they are also non-specific. The exact evidence you need to establish to get punitive damages may vary from case to case.
Over time, the courts have elaborated on what kind of situations might involve punitive damages. In Prozeralik v. Capital Cities, the court reiterated the idea that the defendant’s actions should be intentional or deliberate, and the outrage over these actions should be similar to that associated with a crime. Courts have also emphasized behavior that involves malice, spite, or evil intent from the defendant.
Keep in mind that the defendant need not have actually committed a crime for there to be a finding for punitive damages. However, the defendant’s behavior should draw the same or similar reaction and outrage as a crime.
How to Get the Most Punitive Damages Possible in New York State
Making the most of potential punitive damages involves finding solid evidence of the defendant’s outrageous behavior and maximizing your compensatory damages. Evidence of the defendant’s malice or evil intent combined with evidence of your injuries might influence the jury to award greater punitive damages.
Evidence that the defendant is responsible for your injuries is probably not enough to warrant punitive damages. You might also need evidence that shows the defendant’s intent. Punitive damages are more likely if we show that the defendant did not act negligently but intentionally. Additionally, any evidence that shows the defendant wanted to cause harm or took pleasure in causing harm may help your case.
It might also be helpful to maximize your compensatory damages. When juries decide how much to award for punitive damages, they might refer to your compensatory damages. Essentially, the higher your compensatory damages are, the more your potential punitive damages might be. On top of that, greater punitive damages should naturally flow from greater injuries and losses. For example, if your injuries leave you with lifelong medical complications or disabilities, the jury might be more willing to award greater punitive damages.
Contact Our New York State Personal Injury Attorneys to Discuss Punitive Damages in Your Case
Give our team a call at The Martello Law Firm, PLLC at (914) 685-6950 to schedule a free review of your case and damages with our New Rochelle personal injury attorneys.