Punitive damages might be awarded if the defendant’s behavior is particularly egregious. While these damages are not awarded often, they might still be available in your case.
Punitive damages are a separate category of damages not meant to compensate plaintiffs for injuries, damages, or losses. Instead, punitive damages punish defendants by imposing a monetary cost for their behavior. Proving your claims for punitive damages is not easy. You must present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s behavior meets the criteria for punitive damages. There might be a lot at stake, as punitive damages are famously high in some cases. Even so, you might bump against statutory limits on these damages. Punitive damages are only available in court. If you choose to accept a settlement, there are no punitive damages. However, the possibility of punitive damages might give you more leverage in settlement talks.
For help determining punitive and other damages in your case, call our Tennessee personal injury attorneys of Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 and schedule a confidential case review for no charge.
What Are Punitive Damages and Why Are They Awarded in Tennessee?
If you are familiar with damages, you know they are meant to account for injuries or things the plaintiff has lost. While damages may reflect a whole host of injuries and losses, they are usually measured in money. Punitive damages are a unique category of damages because they are not designed to compensate plaintiffs for anything they lost or any injuries they experienced. Instead, punitive damages are meant to serve as a punishment for defendants and hopefully deter future bad behavior.
It might seem as though punitive damages come up a lot since defendants are often accused of some sort of bad behavior. While typical compensatory damages are available in most cases, punitive damages are far rarer. Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants for extremely shocking, heinous, or otherwise outrageous behavior.
According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-104, punitive damages may only be awarded if the defendant’s bad behavior arises to a level that is deemed malicious, intentionally fraudulent, or reckless. This behavior is far more severe than ordinary negligence in most injury cases. As such, punitive damages tend to be difficult to prove and rarely awarded.
How to Prove Your Claims for Punitive Damages in Tennessee
The burden of proof for punitive damages claims is different than the burden for your other claims in your case. The burden of proof in civil lawsuits for injuries is a preponderance of the evidence. To meet this burden, plaintiffs must show it is more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for their injuries. The burden of proof for punitive damages is separate and higher.
To be awarded punitive damages, you must prove your claims for those damages by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher, more rigorous burden to meet than a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of evidence is sort of like proving that it is more than 50% likely the defendant is liable for your injuries. Clear and convincing evidence requires showing evidence that establishes a high probability of truth.
To meet this higher burden, you need more evidence. Courts are often looking for more definitive evidence. Evidence that shows things like the defendant’s intent or state of mind when they caused your injuries is extremely important. You might also need evidence of the defendant’s fraudulent actions if that is the basis of your punitive damages claim. Talk to an attorney about your case to figure out exactly what kind of evidence you need.
What Are Punitive Damages Worth in Tennessee Cases?
One important question many plaintiffs want to answer when determining their damages is how much they might be worth. Punitive damages are somewhat famous for being significant. You might have heard about lawsuits making news headlines for their insanely high damages awards. Often, when a lawsuit ends with a multi-million dollar verdict, punitive damages are involved.
In many cases, punitive damages can be worth a substantial sum, but they are not unlimited. Tennessee law imposes a statutory limit on how much punitive damages can be recovered for a single claim.
Under the law, punitive damages may not be greater than one of two amounts. The first amount is twice the total value of compensatory damages, which is made up of economic and non-economic damages. The second amount is a flat cap of $500,000. The court will impose whichever limit nets the plaintiff the highest amount.
Even when punitive damages awards are within the statutory limits, they can still be challenged for being excessive. Punitive damages must be proportional to the injuries and claims of the plaintiff. The fact that punitive damages are available does not mean that juries are permitted to max them out to their limits. Your Knoxville personal injury attorneys can give you a good idea of what punitive damages might be worth in your case.
Can I Get Punitive Damages in a Settlement in Tennessee?
Punitive damages are not available in a private settlement agreement. Punitive damages may only be imposed by the courts. If you choose to settle outside of court, there is no guarantee of punitive damages, as settlements are worked out privately between the parties.
Even so, a potential claim for punitive damages might influence how your settlement turns out. If you have a strong claim for punitive damages, you might have more leverage in settlement negotiations. The defendant might be inclined to offer you a greater settlement because they know they risk facing an even larger punitive damages award in court. Your lawyer can help you effectively negotiate a settlement agreement using a potential punitive damages claim as leverage.
Contact Our Tennessee Personal Injury Attorneys to Discuss the Possibility of Punitive Damages
For help figuring out your potential punitive and other damages, call our Nashville personal injury lawyers of Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 and arrange a private case review for no charge.