In personal injury cases, damages must be established with reasonable certainty and may not be speculative. Some personal injury and tort cases also allow plaintiffs to recover punitive (or exemplary) damages. While actual damages are intended to compensate a victim or plaintiff, punitive damages, in contrast, punish or make an example out of the defendant, which is why attorneys and legal scholars also refer to them as exemplary damages.
However, punitive or exemplary damages are not awarded in most personal injury actions. These damages are typically in excess of compensatory damages, and may only be awarded by a court when a defendant’s conduct is sufficiently egregious and the award of punitive damages may have a future effect of deterring similar conduct.
California law, specifically California Civil Code § 3294, permits an award of punitive damages if it is established that the defendant has been “guilty of malice, oppression or fraud” by clear and convincing evidence. The statute defines these terms as follows:
- California Civil Code § 3294 (c) (1) defines “malice” as “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.”
- California Civil Code § 3294 (c)(2) defines “oppression” as “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.”
- California Civil Code § 3294 (c)(3) defines “fraud” as “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.”
The conduct engaged in by a defendant must involve some conscious disregard of another’s rights or intentional fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. Thus, the conduct must be of a degree worse than that of simply breaching a duty in a negligence case. Establishing punitive or exemplary damages typically requires the help of a qualified personal injury attorney.
The Montefalcon Law Office may assist in obtaining rights for negligence victims by offering professional legal assistance. Contact us online or schedule a free consultation at any of our three conveniently located offices. Telephone our downtown Sacramento office at (916) 444 0440, our south Sacramento office at (916) 399-9944, or our Concord office at (925) 222-5929.