The California Civil Code 3294 allows the plaintiff in a personal injury case to be granted punitive damages. They are based on the reprehensibility of the conduct of the defendant, and his or her ability to pay. They are awarded to punish one who acted with oppression, malice, or fraud, usually in cases of extreme recklessness or intentional harm. When awarded, they are in addition to compensatory damages.
When Can Plaintiff Get Punitive Damages?
In a personal injury case, the California Civil Code 3294 permits the jury to award the damages to the plaintiff. The party has to prove by clear as well as convincing evidence that the conduct of the defendant amounted to fraud, malice, or oppression.
Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for his or her losses though. Rather, they serve to punish companies and/or people who engage in especially bad conduct and as an example to deter the defendant and others from similar behaviors in the future.
What Does “Oppression”, “Malice”, or “Fraud” Mean?
As per the California Civil Code 3294(c), the below definitions shall apply.
- “Oppression” means despicable conduct subjecting an individual to cruel as well as unjust hardship in conscious disregard of his or her rights.
- “Malice” means conduct intended by the defendant to cause the plaintiff injury or despicable conduct carried upon by the defendant party with a willful as well as conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.
- “Fraud” means intentional deceit, concealment, or misrepresentation of a material fact that is known to the defendant with the intention upon his or her part of thus depriving an individual of legal rights or property or otherwise causing injury.
What Do “Clear and Convincing” Evidence Mean?
To win back compensatory damages, the plaintiff usually has to prove the claim’s each element by a “preponderance of the evidence”. It means that the party has to simply show that it is likelier than not the claim’s each element is true. However, when it comes down to punitive damages, he or she has to prove oppression, fraud, or malice by “clear and convincing evidence”.
The law of the state does not define this term specifically. However, it is a greater burden of proof than “preponderance of the evidence”. It necessitates the plaintiff party to prove fraud, oppression, or malice with a high degree of probability.
You need to consult with an experienced injury lawyer to learn more about punitive damages, how you can recover them, and by how much. An injury attorney will have details about similar cases unraveled in your jurisdiction, and all the necessary experience to help you understand how they pertain to your case.