Mesa AZ | Personal Injury attorney Brian T. Allen discusses punitive damages in the following post:
A plaintiff (the person who was injured) will typically bring a personal injury claim in order to seek money: money to pay for medical costs, money to replace lost wages or earning capacity, money to compensate for pain or disfigurement, etc. If the jury finds that the defendant is at fault for the injury and the plaintiff should receive money due to the injury, it will decide on the full amount that should be paid and grant an award of compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are the means whereby the judicial system compensates the plaintiff for his or her losses.
Arizona juries can also award damages in addition to compensatory damages called punitive damages. More than just compensate the plaintiff, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for his or her actions and deter others from doing what the defendant did. Punitive damages are an available remedy only in certain cases, and the plaintiff ‘s case must meet certain standards in order to receive punitive damages.
As you might imagine, the standards for punitive damages are higher than those for compensatory damages. If you bring a claim seeking only compensatory damages, you will have to prove the damages by evidence that is more probably true than not true. This is the easiest legal standard of proof to meet. If you seek punitive damages, you will have to prove the damages by clear and convincing evidence. This standard is more difficult to reach, and requires evidence of “highly probable” truth.
What, exactly, does a plaintiff have to prove by clear and convincing evidence to get an award of punitive damages? Under Arizona law, a plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant “acted with an evil mind.” What this means is up to some interpretation, but the Revised Arizona Jury Instructions offer direction on the subject, distilled from various relevant Arizona court cases. According to the Revised Arizona Jury Instructions, a plaintiff can show that the defendant acted with an evil mind by showing any of the following:
- The defendant intended to cause injury; or
- The defendant’s wrongful conduct was motivated by spite or ill will; or
- The defendant consciously pursued a course of conduct knowing that it created a substantial risk of significant harm to others.
Notice that all three factors above have to do with the defendant’s frame of mind. This is why punitive damages can be very difficult to prove, especially by the standard of clear and convincing evidence. Direct or circumstantial evidence will be required that relevant information about the defendant’s thoughts, intentions, feelings, and knowledge before and during the action that led to the plaintiff’s injury. This sort of evidence can be tough to obtain, and even tougher to present to the jury in a manner that is clear and convincing.
Punitive damages are an important aspect of personal injury law. They provide courts with a means to not only compensate the plaintiff, but also punish the defendant for conduct that is deserving of punishment – namely conduct committed “with an evil mind.” If you are considering a personal injury claim and you think punitive damages may be an option in your case, the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney will be very beneficial to you. Feel free to give us a call if you have further questions on this subject.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Punitive Damages or any other personal injury, please feel free to contact Brian T. Allen at 480.461.5335, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.