Damages are a reflection of a plaintiff’s losses and injuries, usually measured in dollars and cents. Punitive damages do not reflect these losses but punish defendants and hopefully deter future wrongful behavior.
You may claim punitive damages in a Mississippi lawsuit if your case meets specific criteria. Be warned that many cases do not meet these criteria, and punitive damages tend to be uncommon. Courts consider a wide variety of factors when determining punitive damages. The defendant’s state of mind, the actual harm caused, and the duration of the wrongful behavior are just some of the factors reviewed by the court. These damages are famous, or perhaps infamous, for being substantial. While you might recover a large punitive damages award, there are statutory limits on how large these awards may be. Evidence to prove your claims is also challenging, as you must satisfy the rigorous “clear and convincing” burden of proof.
Call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 to schedule an initial case evaluation free of charge with our Mississippi personal injury attorneys and talk about the possibility of punitive damages.
Can I Claim Punitive Damages in a Mississippi Lawsuit?
Depending on your claims and the defendant’s actions when you were harmed, you might be able to claim punitive damages in a lawsuit. However, claiming punitive damages is far easier than getting them. They are rarely available, hard to prove, and rarely granted by the courts. Even so, you should talk to your lawyer about whether punitive damages are possible in your case.
Under Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65, punitive damages might be available in injury claims where the defendant acted in one of several very specific ways. The defendant’s conduct must arise to actual malice, fraud, or gross negligence. Keep in mind that gross negligence is a more severe version of ordinary negligence involved in most other injury cases.
On top of all that, there is a different, higher burden of proof to meet when arguing for punitive damages. You must support your punitive damages claims by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a rigorous burden that is higher than the normal burden of proof in injury cases, which is a preponderance of the evidence.
Remember, the “clear and convincing” burden only applies to your claim for punitive damages. You do not have to prove the defendant’s liability for your compensatory damages by the same burden.
How Does a Court Decide Punitive Damages in Mississippi?
Courts in Mississippi do not take punitive damages lightly. These are very serious claims that must meet a high burden of proof, and courts are unlikely to show leniency if you have difficulty meeting this burden. Before punitive damages are even considered, compensatory damages must be decided first. If compensatory damages are not awarded, punitive damages cannot be awarded.
The trier of fact determines whether punitive damages should be awarded. The trier of fact is often a jury, but it might instead be a judge if you have a bench trial. The law spells out various factors the court will consider, including the following.
Courts will consider the defendant’s financial situation, at least to a relevant extent. As discussed in more detail below, punitive damages are often based on the overall net worth of the defendant. Courts may also consider the defendant’s awareness of the harm they caused and their motivation for causing the harm. The defendant’s mental state is very important in punitive damages claims. The court may also look into how long the defendant’s wrongdoing lasted. Was it a singular moment or a series of wrongdoings over time? Anything else the court feels is relevant and important will also be factored into its ruling on punitive damages.
The Overall Value of Punitive Damages in Mississippi
Punitive damages are known for being worth a lot of money. You may have heard stories about plaintiffs in high-profile lawsuits being awarded millions of dollars in punitive damages. While punitive damages awards this large are possible, they are not typical. Punitive damages awards tend to be rare and are generally proportional to the plaintiff’s injuries.
Mississippi places statutory caps on punitive damages. Caps are based on the net worth of the defendant.
Punitive damages cannot be more than…
- $20 million if the defendant is worth $1 billion or more.
- $15 million if the defendant is worth $750 million but less than $1 billion.
- $5 million if the defendant is worth $500 million but less than $750 million.
- $3.75 million if the defendant is worth $100 million but less than $500 million.
- $2.5 million if the defendant is worth $50 million but less than $100 million.
- 2% of the defendant’s total net worth if the defendant has less than $50 million.
In addition to statutory caps on damages, the court will be mindful of making sure an award of punitive damages is proportional to the plaintiff’s injuries. If an award is too high, the defendant can challenge it and possibly have it reduced.
Evidence You Might Need to Support Your Claims for Punitive Damages in Mississippi
Gathering enough evidence to prove punitive damages can be challenging. Since the burden of proof for punitive damages claims is higher than the typical burden of proof in civil injury cases, you might need a lot more evidence than you realize.
The defendant’s behavior, not your specific losses, separates punitive and compensatory damages. As such, evidence should focus on how the defendant acted when you were injured, not the injuries you sustained, the money you lost, or the painful experiences you endured.
A major component of punitive damages claims is proving the defendant’s state of mind. In cases where punitive damages are available, defendants often acted intentionally when they caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The act of harm itself might vary from case to case, but you should search for evidence of the defendant’s state of mind.
To Discuss Punitive Damages and More, Call Our Mississippi Personal Injury Attorneys for Help
Contact us at Howe Law by calling (844) 876-4357 to set up an initial, private case evaluation for no charge with our Mississippi personal injury lawyers and talk about punitive damages.