When am I Entitled to Punitive Damages?

Personal injury lawsuits in Mississippi are like they are in any other state. They are designed to compensate an innocent victim of an injury for the harm that the injury has caused. Occasionally, the victim may have suffered from wrongdoing that was particularly deliberate and intentional. If this can be proven, then the plaintiff may be awarded a separate payment on top of any others that have been paid out as a result of the lawsuit. This extra payment is known as punitive damages and its main purpose is to punish the wrongdoer for his or her actions, or for the actions of a company if this is the wrongdoer.

Economic and non-economic damages in a Mississippi personal injury lawsuit

Punitive damages are not regarded as non-economic damages in Mississippi, even though like these damage awards, the amount awarded cannot have an easily determined monetary value, like medical treatment, the use of an ambulance, or the repair to a vehicle or other property. Generally, a personal injury claim for damages is divided up between economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are the easier of the two categories to define and show evidence for. The usual economic damages in a personal injury lawsuit include:

  • Medical treatment, including an amount for any future treatment if needed
  • Transport costs related to the injury, especially if the plaintiff has lost the use of his or her vehicle after a car crash
  • Lost earnings, wages, etc. as a result of not being able to work as normal including future lost earnings if necessary
  • Repair or replacement of personal property damaged at the same time as the plaintiff was injured

Non-economic damages include:

  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental and physical suffering
  • Emotional distress

While punitive damages are not regarded as non-economic damages, they may be awarded if the plaintiff can prove that the harmful action against them was intentionally reckless or dangerous. Punitive damages can be awarded in any type of personal injury case, but tend to be more common in medical malpractice cases.

Limits to punitive damages in Mississippi

Mississippi imposes a cap on both non-economic damages and punitive damages in a personal injury settlement. The cap on non-economic damages as described above is $1,000,000 for all cases except medical malpractice cases where the cap is $500,000.

The cap on punitive damages is calculated a little differently from other damages. It depends on the ‘net worth’ of the defendant. The intent of the payment is to correct the behavior of the defendant, not to bankrupt him or her. If the defendant’s net worth is less than $50 million, the punitive damages is set at 2% of that value. For example, if a defendant has a total net worth of $400,000, the punitive damages would be $8,000. The calculations for those defendants who have a greater net worth are similar, but may not be exactly 2%.

Although the amount awarded for punitive damages seems quite moderate, it is not decided lightly. There are many factors that a court will consider before deciding whether to impose punitive damages on the defendant. For example, if the defendant had acted when intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or was convicted of a misdemeanor or felony for the injury to the plaintiff, then no punitive damages will be imposed.

There are several other factors considered, such as:

  • How much the defendant understood the harm being caused
  • The motivation for causing harm
  • The length of time in which the misconduct was taking place
  • Whether the defendant tried to cover up the misconduct
  • The exact circumstances involved in the defendant’s misconduct
  • The relationship between the defendant and the plaintiff
  • The financial status of the defendant (as has already been mentioned)

Every personal injury lawsuit is unique. If you have been seriously injured and believe that the individual, company, or organization that harmed you was acting in a deliberately harmful manner or was deliberately attempting to deceive you about the harm caused, then you should discuss your legal options, including the possibility of punitive damages, with an experienced Jackson, Mississippi personal injury attorney. Contact the Diaz Law Firm online or call us in Jackson today at 601-607-3456 to make an appointment.