guide to California punitive damages

If you file a personal injury claim against someone, the court may award you money for your damages.

Plaintiffs usually seek compensatory damages, which address the actual costs they’ve experienced due to the injury. But in extreme cases, you may be able to demand punitive damages from the liable party. Punitive damages are rare, but they can increase the value of your claim tremendously.

Silva Injury Law has helped many Californians get justice after an injury. Our team knows how and when to seek punitive damages in California to get you the most compensation possible.

Contact us now at (209) 600-4389 to book your free, no-obligation consultation.

What Are Punitive Damages? 

Under California Civil Code 3294, a court can award punitive or exemplary damages to a plaintiff “for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”. The defendant must pay these damages in addition to compensatory damages. In other words, punitive damages punish someone for wrongdoing and discourage other potential wrongdoers from engaging in the same conduct.

When Can a Plaintiff Seek Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are rare because they require a defendant to act so egregiously that it merits additional punishment. Nevertheless, you can seek punitive damages in almost all types of personal injury claims, such as:

  • Assault, 
  • Battery,
  • DUI-related accidents,
  • Felony murder,
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress,
  • Medical malpractice, and
  • Sexual assault.

These are only a few examples that typically give rise to punitive damages. Speak with Silva Injury Law to see if you can pursue additional compensation for your injury.

How Do Courts Determine to Award Punitive Damages?

The plaintiff must demand punitive damages when filing their lawsuit. If the plaintiff wins, the court will look at the facts of the case to see if they merit exemplary damages. The court needs “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.” 

Here’s how the law further defines these terms:

  • Oppression—“despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights;”
  • Malice—“conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others;” and
  • Fraud—“an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”

These definitions allow for interpretation. You need an experienced personal injury attorney who can show why the facts of your case fit these definitions and entitle you to punitive damages.

What Is the California Punitive Damages Cap?

Unlike other states, California doesn’t place a limit on the amount of punitive damages you can recover. A jury can award whatever amount it feels you deserve. However, a Supreme Court decision requires that these awards be “reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered.”

What Factors Can Affect My Punitive Damages Award?

The amount you can receive in punitive damages depends on the nature of your claim. Generally, the more harm you experience, the higher your damages will be. However, the court instructs jurors to help them understand how to calculate punitive damages in California. 

Jurors must consider many other factors when determining a punitive damages award, such as:

  • If the defendant regularly engages in this conduct,
  • How reprehensible the defendant acted,
  • How much is needed to punish the defendant and discourage this behavior in the future, 
  • Whether the defendant disregarded other’s safety and well-being,
  • Whether the defendant tried to exploit you financially, 
  • Whether the defendant tricked or deceived you, and
  • Whether the punitive damages award has a reasonable relationship with your harm or potential harm.

Since these factors are publicly available, your lawyer can build a case to include these considerations. Your attorney will weave them into their argument, making it easy for the jury to see why you deserve additional compensation.

Can I Get Punitive Damages in a Settlement?

Only a court can award punitive damages in California. Since the value of these damages depends on the jury, it’s impossible to calculate the value of a potential award. For this reason, you can’t get punitive damages in a settlement. 

Nevertheless, you may get more compensation in a settlement if the defendant’s conduct includes oppression, malice, or fraud. Your lawyer can remind the other side that you might win punitive damages at trial. Since a defendant wants to avoid the risk of paying punitive damages in court, they may be willing to settle faster or for a higher amount to avoid paying more.

How Can a Personal Injury Attorney Help?

Navigating the intricacies of a personal injury case in California can be challenging. You need a lawyer who will manage all aspects of your claim so you can focus on getting back to your old life. Below are the many ways Silva Injury Law can assist you during this process.

Experience with California’s Laws

California has specific laws governing punitive damages, which can be quite nuanced. Our personal injury attorneys understand these statutes and stay informed about any changes or updates. Our insight allows us to offer tailored advice based on the specifics of your case so you can set expectations.

Evaluating Eligibility for Punitive Damages

Not every personal injury case qualifies for punitive damages. A seasoned attorney from our firm will review the facts of your case to see what compensation you can receive. If the defendant’s conduct indicates oppression, malice, or fraud, we’ll do all we can to get you the highest award possible.

Crafting a Persuasive Case

Courts are hesitant to award punitive damages, so our firm will prepare a meticulous case to maximize your chances of success. Your attorney will work hard to establish the egregious nature of the defendant’s actions, including compiling evidence, interviewing witnesses, and collaborating with experts.

Skillful Negotiation

Often, parties opt for settlements instead of long, expensive legal battles. Our personal injury attorneys can negotiate on your behalf, leveraging their understanding of California punitive damages to ensure an equitable resolution. They will use the law, evidence, and circumstances to push for the highest settlement available.

Courtroom Advocacy

Settlement isn’t always the best resolution, especially if you want to maximize your punitive damages. Having an experienced personal injury attorney during this time is essential. They act as a staunch advocate, presenting your case persuasively and effectively. You can count on our firm’s courtroom experience to explain why you deserve punitive damages and push for the best award possible.

Schedule a Free Consultation

The attorneys at Silva Injury Law have decades of experience litigating personal injury cases. Our team understands the intricacies of punitive damages in California and how to draft a demand for this additional compensation. Our approach has led to many successful outcomes and millions of dollars for our clients. Call today at (209) 600-4389 to schedule a no-obligation, no-cost consultation