Punitive Damages

If you were hurt in an accident in Chicago, Illinois, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, and other damages you suffer. While these damages are often awarded in personal injury cases, there is another category of damages that are not awarded as often, but that may be available in rare cases. These are called punitive damages. Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers can evaluate your case to determine the damages that may be available in your case.

What Are Damages?

What Are Damages?

Damages are the remedy the plaintiff requests the court provide them in a civil case. In a personal injury case, damages generally refer to financial payments awarded to a plaintiff.

Types of Damages

Illinois law provides for various types of damages, including:

Economic Damages 

Most damages in personal injury cases are compensatory damages. As the name suggests, these damages are meant to compensate the victim. The court tries to make the plaintiff whole again by restoring them to the position they were in before the case. 

Economic damages are a form of compensatory damages that compensates victims for tangible losses they suffer because of the accident. Common examples of economic damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Property damage
  • Loss of income or earnings
  • Reduced earning capacity 
  • Out-of-pocket expenses

In a wrongful death case, economic damages may include funeral and burial expenses. These damages are calculated by using receipts, estimates, and invoices to determine the value of such losses.

Non-Economic Damages 

General damages or non-economic damages refer to intangible losses that victims may suffer, such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of society
  • Loss of consortium

These damages are more difficult to calculate. Jurors are advised to use their best judgment to determine their value. Personal injury lawyers may present various types of evidence to support a non-economic damages claim, sometimes with the help of expert analysis.

Punitive Damages

While other types of damages are intended to compensate the victim, punitive damages are not. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer. These damages are not awarded in every case and are reserved for cases involving actions that are particularly egregious. They are also used to try to prevent similar conduct in the future. 

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded In Illinois Personal Injury Cases?

In Illinois, punitive damages can generally only be awarded in cases in which a plaintiff sustains actual damages. Personal injury cases may be based on theories of negligence or product liability. One example when punitive damages may be awarded in a personal injury case is when a defendant harms someone by drunk driving.

Punitive damages can be awarded in cases involving:

  • Bodily injury
  • Physical damage to property
  • Product liability
  • Workers’ compensation retaliatory discharge

Punitive damages are not permitted in medical or legal malpractice cases per state law. They are generally not awarded in contract cases unless the defendant’s actions were a willful tort. Punitive damages cannot be awarded against a corporation for the acts of its employees unless the plaintiff can show the officers’ fault. 

For an Illinois judge or jury to award punitive damages, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s actions were undertaken with an “evil motive” or “with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.” Evidence must be clear and convincing. 

Juries may consider various factors when determining whether to award punitive damages, including:

  • The relevant facts of the case
  • The defendant’s conduct
  • The duration of the defendant’s wrongful conduct
  • The nature of the harm the plaintiff suffered and their financial vulnerability
  • The actual harm the defendant’s conduct caused
  • Whether the defendant tried to hide their wrongful actions
  • The amount of money that would properly punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future 
  • Other relevant factors

Punitive damages are awarded in trials, so settlements do not typically include them. However, your personal injury lawyer can consider the potential punitive damages that could be awarded at trial to try to secure a larger settlement. 

How Much Are Punitive Damages?

In Illinois, punitive damages generally cannot exceed three times the amount of actual damages the plaintiff incurs. However, if the defendant’s underlying conduct involved the commission of a crime for which they could be incarcerated, this limit does not apply. 

Illinois jurors are instructed to award punitive damages in an amount that is reasonable and in proportion to the plaintiff’s actual and potential harm. 

How Can I Obtain Punitive Damages?

The first step to obtaining punitive damages is to request them as part of your personal injury lawsuit. Issues relating to the award of punitive damages can be tried separately from the underlying facts of the case. Showing a right to punitive damages requires a higher burden of proof than proving a right to other damages, so having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side is usually a good idea.

Contact an Experienced Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer for More Information 

If you were hurt in an accident and want to learn more about your rights, including your possible right to pursue punitive damages, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers. We can discuss whether you may be entitled to punitive damages. We can also help calculate your compensatory damages. Contact us online or call us at (312) 929-2884 for a free case review.