Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA
Punitive damages generally serve as a financial deterrent to prevent egregious behavior. In California, the calculation of these damages involves a nuanced understanding of the state’s legal landscape and a careful consideration of several different elements. One of the best ways to calculate punitive damages in California is by considering several key factors such as:
|Steps in the Legal Process for Seeking Punitive Damages
|Filing a Lawsuit
|Plaintiff initiates legal action alleging malicious, oppressive, or fraudulent conduct by the defendant.
|Trial is divided into two phases: liability and damages.
|Jury determines defendant’s liability and malicious conduct.
|If liable, the same jury determines compensatory and punitive damages.
|Evidence of Financial Status
|Courts review defendant’s financial status before awarding punitive damages.
|Awarding of Punitive Damages
|If awarded, the amount should not exceed nine times compensatory damages.
Note that there is no fixed standard to determine the amount of punitive damages in a personal injury case in California. If a defendant must pay punitive damages, the amount is often determined by a number multiplier that increases with the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct.
Courts will typically look at factors such as the wealth or valuation of the defendant, the egregiousness of the harm suffered by the plaintiff, and the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff when determining a punitive damages award.
Courts may consider,
Remember, the goal of punitive damages is not just to punish the defendant, but also to deter similar conduct in the future.
Punitive damages, also referred to as “exemplary” damages in California, are a form of punishment against a defendant for certain wrongful acts. Unlike compensatory damages, which aim to repay the plaintiff for harm suffered, punitive damages are imposed by a judge or jury to punish the defendant for behavior deemed abhorrent and unacceptable. Punitive damages are used to deter such behavior in the future by the defendant or others who learn of the award.
Punitive damages are awarded in extreme cases where the defendant’s conduct goes beyond negligence and shows a conscious disregard for others’ safety. The evidence in these cases needs to be unambiguous and usually supported by several witnesses and/or a criminal conviction.
According to the California Civil Code, section 3294, punitive damages are available to plaintiffs who can show that a defendant acted with “oppression, fraud, or malice” toward the plaintiff, in any claim that does not stem from a breach of contract. In addition to these criteria, the plaintiff must also demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were intentional and purposeful. This means that the defendant knew their actions were likely to cause harm but chose to proceed regardless.
Furthermore, the plaintiff must also provide clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s malice, oppression, or fraud. This is a higher standard of proof than the “preponderance of the evidence” typically required in civil cases. Lastly, the court must find that the amount of punitive damages awarded is reasonable in relation to the harm caused by the defendant’s actions. This is to ensure that the punitive damages serve their purpose of punishment and deterrence, without being excessive or unjust.
Before awarding punitive damages, California courts must review evidence of a defendant’s financial status. This is to ensure that the defendant won’t be financially crippled by such an award, as the principle behind punitive damages is to prevent bad behavior in the future, not to ruin the defendant entirely.
California courts can award punitive damages in any amount that does not exceed nine times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff. Factors such as the wealth or valuation of the defendant, the egregiousness of the harm suffered by the plaintiff, and the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff are considered when determining a punitive damages award.
The process for seeking punitive damages in California involves several key steps:
The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to demonstrate with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. This is a higher standard of proof than the “preponderance of the evidence” typically required in civil cases.
Yes, a jury does have a say in who gets punitive damages. In most states, including California, the decision to award punitive damages and the amount of those damages may be at the discretion of the judge or jury in a case.
An attorney plays a crucial role in helping you seek punitive damages. Here’s how:
Enlisting the assistance of a lawyer helps ensure you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Their expertise and guidance can be invaluable in helping you navigate the legal process and achieve a favorable outcome.
If you believe you have a case that may warrant punitive damages, LawLinq, a lawyer referral service based in California, is here to help. Our team at LawLinq can connect you with leading personal injury attorneys who specialize in cases like yours. They can provide you with the legal advice and representation you need to achieve the best case results possible. Contact LawLinq to learn more about your options today.