Punitive damages are a form of legal compensation. They are usually awarded when a defendant is found guilty of committing an offense so egregious the court determines the defendant needs to be financially punished for their actions. It is a situation where a court believes that compensatory damages are not sufficient to properly compensate a victim.
Awarding Punitive Damages
Payment of punitive damages is considered a way to deter a defendant or others in similar situations from committing the same terrible actions in the future. When they are issued, they are combined with any awarded compensatory damages. It is estimated that approximately five percent of civil cases involve an award of punitive damages.
Factors Determining Punitive Damages
There are certain factors used to determine if punitive damages are appropriate in a lawsuit:
- Level of reprehensible and egregious actions by a defendant
- Harm experienced by the victim that is difficult to properly value
- Defendant’s conduct was extremely offensive
- If similar cases resulted in an award of punitive damages
1. Robinson V. RJ Reynolds
RJ Reynolds is a corporation in the United States that makes a wide variety of tobacco products. The Robinson family sued RJ Reynolds in 2014. They held the company responsible for the death of a family member and all the suffering associated with this loss.
The family received compensatory damages in the amount of $16.9 million. The jury decided to also award the family punitive damages in the amount of $23.6 billion. In another related case, the company had been forced to pay $145 billion in a similar class-action lawsuit.
2. EEOC V. Land Air Express of New England
This involved a person who had previously worked for Land Air Express of New England. This prior employee believed they were the victim of a wrongful termination because of their illness and hospitalization.
The lawyers representing Land Air Express of New England argued the employee had an obligation to take off time from their job to deal with their illness. A jury ultimately made a statement by granting the former employee an award of $360,000. This amount was a combination of compensatory and punitive damages.
3. MGA V. Mattel
This involves two different companies that manufactured toys. Mattel made Barbie Dolls and MGA made Bratz dolls. These two corporations became involved in civil litigation that involved thousands of court filings and lasted for several years.
The issue trying to be settled is if Mattel did or did not inappropriately use trade secrets or break intellectual laws regarding its Barbie brand and in doing so harmed the Bratz brand. It was heard before a judge and not a jury. MGA was ultimately awarded $85 million in punitive damages. The judge ruled that Mattel had been extremely devious in its behavior.
4. Calandro V. Radius HealthCare Center
Genevieve Calandro was an elderly woman. She passed away in 2008 after going to the hospital from the nursing home where she resided. The reason she went to the hospital is she had fallen. During this visit, it was determined she had been suffering for a long time from the treatment she received at the nursing home.
Calandro was suffering from kidney failure, infected sores as well as uncontrolled diabetes. It was obvious she had suffered a great deal before she died. Calandro’s family sued Radius HealthCare Center. The family was ultimately given a substantial award for compensatory as well as punitive damages. It totaled over $13 million dollars.
5. Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants
This was a product liability lawsuit that occurred in 1994. Stella Liebeck was a 79-year-old woman who experienced third-degree burns in her pelvic region. It was caused when she accidentally spilled hot coffee, she had purchased from McDonald’s, in her lap. Liebeck spent eight days in the hospital and had skin grafting. She then had two years of medical treatments.
Liebeck’s attorney made the argument that the coffee from McDonald’s was served at a higher temperature than any other type of establishment and that made it defective. McDonald’s refused offers to settle the case out of court. The jury awarded Liebeck $160,000 in compensatory damages as well as $2.7 million in punitive damages. McDonald’s appealed the decision and both parties settled for a confidential amount before a decision was given on the appeal.
When people have been harmed, they should speak with a punitive damage lawyer. These are legal professionals who know the court system and how to navigate it. They can protect their client’s legal rights and get them fair compensation for their loss.