Punitive damages are legal recompense when compensatory damages are insufficient. They are specifically designed to punish the guilty party whose conduct was intentional or grossly negligent. Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages. Moreover, Punitive damages are intended to deter the defendant from committing similar actions in the future.
They are given along with other damages and increase the plaintiff’s award. The court takes several factors into consideration before awarding punitive damages. Next, the court will assess whether or not the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent, intentional or malicious.
The court will also take a look at similar cases to see if punitive damages were awarded. Each state has different criteria for punitive damages. The states and the Supreme Court follow a guideline for calculating punitive damages. Generally, punitive damages do not exceed four times of the compensator damages.
For example, $100,000 in compensatory damages would likely result in $400,00 in punitive damages. However, there are exceptions. If the defendant’s actions were exceptionally egregious, the punitive damages award may be higher.
Lawsuits Concerning Punitive Damages in a Burn Injury
Burn injuries can be caused by workplace injuries, product defects or someone’s negligence. The company or individual responsible for the burn injury is liable. Burn injuries can cause financial losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages. A personal injury lawsuit can help victims and their families by awarding monies for medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, loss of income and pain and suffering.
Common causes of burn injuries include fireworks accidents, chemical burns, car accidents, electric shock accidents, construction site accidents and kitchen accidents.
Negligence is the wrongful act of a company, group or individual that causes harm to another person. The following elements must be proved in a burn injury case based on negligence in order to prevail:
- The defendant holds the plaintiff a duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty
- The breach was a direct cause in causing the plaintiff harm
If the defendant acted very negligently or egregiously, the burn victim may be entitled to punitive damages. But, punitive damages for negligence are tough to predict. An example of gross negligence would be a product company failing to conduct testing on a product. This includes even if a product was manufactured to be used with a flame.
If someone is badly turned by an oven mitt, the mitt manufacture could be ordered by the court to pay thousands of dollars in punitive damages. Many times, the threat of punitive damages will make the defendant more likely to settle the case at a higher amount.
Liebeck v. McDonald’s
One of the most famous cases where a burn injury involved punitive damages was Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants in 1994. This happened in the state of New Mexico. “Stella Liebeck sustained severe third-degree burns from a coffee she purchased in the McDonald’s drive-thru. Important to note that she was the passenger in a vehicle that was parked and there were no warnings about the dangerously hot temperature of the coffee. McDonald’s common practice was to serve the coffee at 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that could cause third-degree burns in three to seven seconds. There were also close to 700 other accounts of customers suffering burns from the coffee around the time of the case.
Stella Liebeck was eventually awarded 3 million dollars in punitive damages and the jurors chose their verdict with the reasoning that McDonald’s restaurants showed callous disregard for the safety of the people. The case fell under the Wantonly, oppressively, or with such malice as to evince a spirit of malice or criminal indifference to civil obligations guideline in the eyes of the jury.”
The Law Firm of Terry Bryant has handled burn cases with gross or willful negligence that resulted in punitive damages and compensatory damages. It’s important to choose an experienced attorney when it comes to burn cases. An experienced attorney will be a strong advocate on your behalf and make sure that you get the compensation that you deserve.
An experienced attorney will know how to prove negligence, get all of the medical documentation and fight for a good settlement. Experience matters when it comes to prevailing in a personal injury case. Contact the Law Firm of Terry Bryant.
If you’ve incurred a burn injury due to the negligence of another, give attorney Terry Bryant a call today. You can get a free consultation, and then make your decision about what you want to do. And if you decide to use the Law Firm of Terry Bryant, you’ll be glad you did. This law firm will guide you through the entire process and stick with you to the end.