punitive damages | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Punitive damages are a monetary award that is designed to punish the defendant for their egregious conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior, typically awarded in civil cases where the defendant’s behavior is considered particularly reprehensible or intentional.

Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate the plaintiff for their actual losses or injuries. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff but rather to punish the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.

Punitive damages are usually only awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct is particularly egregious, such as cases involving intentional harm, fraud, or malice. The amount of punitive damages awarded can vary widely and is typically left up to the discretion of the judge or jury.

Critics of punitive damages argue that they can lead to excessive verdicts that are not supported by the evidence and that they can have a chilling effect on innovation and economic growth by creating a climate of uncertainty and risk aversion. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that punitive damages are necessary to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions and deter future misconduct.

In the United States, the availability and amount of punitive damages varies widely depending on the state and the type of case involved. Some states have placed caps on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, while others have abolished punitive damages altogether.

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Last Modified: 03/13/2023


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