Punitive DamagesA personal injury claim may include compensation for different types of damages. The types of damages you could receive for your personal injury case depend on the facts of the case. 

Economic damages would include financial losses. Examples include lost income, medical bills, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic damages refer to the pain and suffering the injured party experienced because of the accident or incident.

Kentucky laws allow accident victims to seek compensatory damages caused by another party’s negligence or wrongdoing. However, the law also provides for punitive damages in specific situations.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages do not compensate the plaintiff (injured party) for damages caused by an accident or injury. This type of damage is also called exemplary damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to “punish” the defendant.

Another purpose of punitive damages is to deter the defendant from committing similar conduct in the future. The punitive damages award may also serve as a warning for other individuals who might consider engaging in similar conduct. 

When Can a Defendant Be Ordered to Pay Punitive Damages Under Kentucky Law?

According to KRS §411.184, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or oppression toward the plaintiff by clear and convincing evidence. 

A preponderance of the evidence is the standard of proof used to establish fault and liability in a personal injury case. The plaintiff must prove there is a greater than 50 percent chance the defendant acted as the plaintiff alleges. 

However, to recover punitive damages, you must prove your allegations by clear and convincing evidence. “Clear and convincing” is a higher burden of proof than preponderance of the evidence. You must show that it is “highly and substantially more likely” that the allegations against the defendant are true than untrue.

The second hurdle is to prove that the defendant acted with oppression, fraud, or malice. In personal injury cases, malice or oppression is generally the grounds under which punitive damages may be awarded.

Malice means that the defendant’s conduct was intended to cause injury to the plaintiff. The defendant may act with malice if his conduct shows a “flagrant indifference” to the plaintiff’s rights and the defendant is aware that the conduct will cause death or injury. 

Oppression is defined as conduct specifically intended to cause a cruel and unjust hardship for the plaintiff.

How Much Punitive Damages Can Be Awarded in Kentucky Personal Injury Cases?

A judge or jury will decide whether to assess punitive damages against the defendant.

KRS §411.186 explains the factors that the judge or jury should consider if it finds that punitive damages are warranted in an injury case:

  • The likelihood that the defendant’s misconduct would result in serious harm at the time they committed the act
  • The defendant’s degree of awareness of that likelihood
  • Whether the defendant profited from their misconduct
  • The duration of the defendant’s misconduct
  • Whether the defendant attempted to conceal the misconduct
  • Any actions the defendant may have taken to remedy the misconduct 

In some states, punitive damages are limited or capped. There are no caps for punitive damage awards in Kentucky, including in medical malpractice cases. Some states set the amount of punitive damages as a number times the amount of compensatory damages. However, in Kentucky personal injury cases, the jury or judge determines the amount of punitive damages.

Punitive damages awards that are excessive could be appealed and overturned in some cases. Opinions issued by the United States Supreme Court state that defendants must be afforded due process in punitive damage cases. 

The award of punitive damages must not be without merit or be excessive. Jury instructions explaining an award of punitive damages must clearly explain the requirements for awarding punitive damages. 

Examples of Cases in Which Punitive Damages Might Be Awarded?

Kentucky personal injury attorney Carl W. Walter IIIt is rare for punitive damages to be awarded in a personal injury case. The burden of proof and the legal requirements can be difficult to meet. However, cases involving impairment by drugs or alcohol are common causes of action for punitive damages.

For example, punitive damages may be awarded in a DUI accident case. They may be awarded in a medical malpractice case involving a doctor providing medical care under the influence of illegal drugs. In both cases, the defendant’s conduct may demonstrate a “flagrant indifference” for the safety of others. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With A Lexington Personal Injury Lawyer

Proving that you are entitled to punitive damages because of the defendant’s conduct can be challenging. However, our Lexington personal injury attorneys diligently pursue all sources of compensation, including an award for punitive damages.

Contact our law office to schedule your free consultation to discuss your case and how we can help you fight for a fair and reasonable settlement agreement.