In Alabama, punitive damages may be awarded to plaintiffs when defendants are found to have acted egregiously. However, punitive damages are rare, as the bar you must meet to get them is very high.
While compensatory damages are awarded to make plaintiffs whole again after an injury or loss, at least financially, punitive damages are different. These damages are a punishment for defendants and act as a deterrent to future bad acts. Punitive damages are only awarded if plaintiffs can show that defendant’s actions meet specific criteria. Evidence to back up these claims will vary based on the plaintiff’s injuries and the defendant’s behavior. You might be awarded substantial punitive damages if you successfully prove your claims.
To arrange an initial evaluation of your case to get started, call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 and speak to our Alabama personal injury attorneys today.
When Punitive Damages Are Available in Alabama
The availability of punitive damages in Alabama is very strict. According to Ala. Code § 6-11-20, punitive damages are largely available in wrongful death claims. They might be available in other injury claims if plaintiffs can show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant deliberately engaged in oppression, committed fraud, acted with wantonness, or acted with malice.
These concepts can be somewhat subjective. To eliminate possible confusion, the law has spelled out how these terms and legal concepts are defined.
Fraud involves a purposeful misrepresentation or deception. Fraud may be committed in numerous ways. For example, fraud might involve outright trickery or lies. It might instead involve the concealment of important facts while otherwise providing true information. Fraud must be intentional. If someone does not provide pertinent details because they themselves are unaware of these details, they have not committed fraud, at least not for the purpose of considering punitive damages.
Malice is an intentional wrongdoing. The defendant can be said to have acted maliciously if they intended to cause harm and had no just cause or reasonable excuse for their actions. The defendant’s behavior must occur under circumstances indicating an evil motive or intent to be considered malice. Keep in mind that the legal definition of malice is subjective and difficult to pin down. While an evil motive or intent is certainly a hallmark of malice, it is not the only defining factor. Your attorney can help you determine if malice was present when you were injured.
Wantonness refers to recklessness. Wantonness involves reckless behavior that is more outrageous than ordinary reckless behavior. To be considered for punitive damages, the defendant’s behavior must be so reckless that it shows a conscious disregard for other people’s rights and safety.
Oppression occurs when a defendant is found to have subjected a plaintiff to unjust hardships and disregarded the plaintiff’s rights. This is admittedly a somewhat vague definition and might apply to numerous circumstances. You might think of oppression as forcing someone to do an extremely dangerous job, knowing the odds of the person becoming badly injured are high.
Remember, oppression involves some degree of force or coercion. A plaintiff who willingly and knowingly accepts the risks of a certain job might not be considered oppressed.
How Punitive Damages Are Different From Other Damages in Alabama
Punitive damages are rare for a reason. They are only available in cases where defendants are found to have acted in very specific, egregious ways. This can sometimes be a tricky distinction to wrap your head around, as many people would not file a lawsuit in the first place if they did not think the defendant acted egregiously. The conduct warranting punitive damages is severe. It must be beyond what you might consider ordinary negligence in a typical injury claim.
As briefly mentioned earlier, claims for punitive damages must meet a separate burden of proof from the rest of your case. You must prove your claims for punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher burden to meet and requires much more evidence.
Another way that punitive damages are different from ordinary damages is the purpose they serve. Punitive damages are not meant to make up for something the plaintiff lost. Instead, they serve a dual purpose of punishing defendants and deterring future wrongful behavior. If a court is particularly interested in preventing the defendants or other similarly situated defendants from perpetrating the same behavior, they may be more inclined to award punitive damages.
Evidence to Back Up Claims for Punitive Damages in Alabama
Since punitive damages claims must meet a higher burden of proof, you need a greater showing of evidence. Exactly what evidence is best for your case depends on the nature of your injuries and the basis of your punitive damages claims. While your evidence may vary greatly and is highly unique to your situation, it should be able to support your claims in the following ways.
As you now know, punitive damages are often based on malice, fraud, or wanton recklessness. Each of these elements requires a different showing of evidence. For example, if you base your punitive damages claims on malice, you might need evidence establishing the defendant’s intent and state of mind when they injured you. Malice is often characterized by an evil intent to do harm. Proving intent can be difficult, and you should definitely talk to your lawyer.
Fraud involves deception, trickery, or intentional withholding of pertinent information. You need evidence that the defendant deceived you and that the defendant deceived you knowingly. You should also present evidence showing how the defendant’s deception directly caused your injuries.
Wanton recklessness is similar to ordinary negligence in that the defendant might not have intended to hurt you. However, wantonness is much more severe than ordinary negligence. You need evidence showing that the defendant’s negligence and reckless actions were downright shocking. This evidence depends on the nature of the accident.
Contact Our Alabama Personal Injury Attorneys for Help
Call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 and speak to our Birmingham personal injury lawyers today to set up an initial evaluation of your claims to begin your case.