Punitive Damages | Kentucky Personal Injury

What are Punitive Damages?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines punitive damages as ‘the costs that are awarded to a person due to negligence that has caused ‘personal injury’ or damage to ‘personal property. ‘ It is a payment by the person to the ‘injured party as a punishment for reckless behavior.’

Punitive damages are sometimes referred to as ‘exemplary damages.’ This term is used to denote that the payment is meant as an emphatic statement that society, as represented by the jury, will not tolerate the kind of outrageous behavior the defendant has shown.

Individual states define and regulate punitive damages in personal injury cases. Statutes typically set a standard that personal injury attorneys must meet for the jury or a judge to award this extra compensation. In cases where punitive damages are available, they are generally in addition to compensatory damages for medical bills and other economic losses.

Kentucky law (KRS 411.184) says ‘punitive damages’ includes exemplary damages and means ‘damages awarded against a person to punish and to discourage him and others from similar conduct in the future.’

Further, ‘A plaintiff shall recover punitive damages only upon proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant from whom such damages are sought acted toward the plaintiff with oppression, fraud or malice.’

To recover punitive damages in Ohio, the law says a plaintiff must show that ‘The actions or omissions of [the] defendant demonstrate malice or aggravated or egregious fraud, or that defendant as principal or master knowingly authorized, participated in, or ratified actions or omissions of an agent or servant that so demonstrate.’

Why are Punitive Damages Awarded?

In a personal injury accident claim, an injured person generally seeks to recover compensation for medical costs, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering caused by another’s negligence. In certain injury cases, Kentucky law and Ohio personal injury law allow juries to award an additional type of compensation, known as punitive damages.

As the term implies, punitive damages are intended to punish wrongdoers for the harm they have caused. Punitive damages are not available in all cases. The Becker Law Office and our trial attorney associates push to substantiate and maximize punitive damages when the facts of the case indicate that it is appropriate to demand that our clients receive this additional consideration.

As we’ve seen, punitive damages are awarded when the party at fault in a personal injury lawsuit has been found to have acted outrageously with fraud or malice. The award is meant to punish the defendant and serve as an example to others.

In 2016, the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld an award of punitive damages against a hospital that had failed to stabilize ‘an uninsured and indigent paraplegic’ homeless man who came to the hospital’s emergency room twice over an 18-hour period complaining of extreme pain. In both visits, the man was discharged without being hospitalized. He died from a ruptured ulcer a few hours after being discharged the second time.

The jury awarded the family $25,000 in compensatory damages and apportioned 15 percent of the responsibility for the wrongful death to the hospital, for a share of $3,750. The jury originally awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages against the hospital, but at a later retrial on punitive damages, the jury awarded a slightly reduced sum of $1.45 million.

The Court agreed that the evidence established that the hospital had ratified its staff’s misconduct, which warranted an award of punitive damages against it.

In the end, a jury that awards punitive damages must be convinced to do so by the evidence in the case and how persuasively it is presented to jury members and the court. That requires an experienced trial lawyer backed by an investigative team with the resources necessary to conduct a thorough examination of the accident and build a strong case.

Are Punitive Damages Capped in Kentucky?

There are no limits, or ‘caps,’ on the number of punitive damages awarded in Kentucky.

In each state, a civil jury decides whether a plaintiff deserves punitive or exemplary damages and how much money will be awarded. Kentucky law requires the jury to set the number of punitive damages according to:

  • The likelihood that the defendant knew at the time of the accident their actions or inaction would cause ‘serious harm’ to the plaintiff
  • The degree of the defendant’s awareness of that likelihood
  • How much the defendant has profited from their misconduct
  • The duration of the misconduct and any concealment of it by the defendant
  • Any actions the defendant took to remedy the misconduct once it became known to the defendant.

In Ohio, to award punitive damages, a jury must first determine the plaintiff deserves compensatory damages. Compensatory damages include payment for economic loss, or bills and other quantifiable payments or losses, plus noneconomic damages, such as for pain and suffering. Then a jury will be asked to decide to consider whether the defendant’s actions were ‘intentional, malicious, and/or egregious’ and whether punitive damages are appropriate.

In most cases, Ohio caps non-economic compensatory damages at $250,000 or three times the amount awarded for economic losses, whichever is more. Punitive damages in Ohio are capped at two times the amount of compensatory damages (economic and noneconomic), up to $350,000, whichever is less.

For example, if the jury awards $100,000 to repay a defendant for economic loss, it may also award up to $300,000 for noneconomic losses. Because that adds up to $400,000, punitive damages would be limited to $350,000, for a total jury award of $750,000.

If the claim warrants payment of $25,000 for economic loss, the jury may award up to $75,000 for noneconomic losses. Because that adds up to $100,000, the most available for punitive damages would be $200,000, for a total jury award of $300,000.

Contact Becker Law Office about Punitive Damages

To learn more about how the attorneys of the Becker Law Office can help you in Kentucky or Ohio after a serious accident and injury, contact us online or give us a call today to schedule a free no-obligation consultation. Our injury lawyers will listen to you and your needs, review your case, and develop a plan to get you all the money you deserve. Contact us now: (502) 333-3333.