Serious injuries from car accidents, defective products, and medical malpractice may leave you with hefty medical bills, lost wages, and lasting physical ailments. Fortunately, you can seek compensation for injuries and damages resulting from your incident through a personal injury case.

In personal injury cases, the injured party, known as the plaintiff, seeks damages as compensation for their financial losses and injuries caused by the other party. These are called compensatory damages. Plaintiffs in Indiana can also be awarded something called punitive damages.

Consider hiring the Indianapolis personal injury lawyers at Wagner Reese if you’ve been badly injured through no fault of your own. Our experienced injury law firm has been helping victims of personal injury fight to receive the damages they’re owed for more than two decades, and we’ve even helped many victims also receive punitive damages.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages help victims receive justice in the most serious cases of negligence and injury. Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are meant to punish the defendant for acting recklessly or maliciously and discourage similar actions down the line.

Punitive damages are monetary awards. In Indiana, plaintiffs will only receive 25% of the punitive damages, with the rest being awarded to the Violent Crimes Victim Compensation Fund by the state treasurer. This fund assists victims and dependents of victims of violent crimes with medical expenses, lost wages, funeral costs, and counseling sessions.

When are Punitive Damages Awarded?

Punitive damages are only awarded if the victim can prove the defendant is liable for gross negligence, fraud, or malicious or reckless behavior. In general, this means you are only awarded these damages if your injury or accident was intentional. If the defendant didn’t intend to cause injury or harm or wasn’t aware their actions could cause harm, punitive damages usually aren’t awarded.

In cases with punitive damages, the plaintiff has the burden of proof. This means you or your lawyer must present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s purposeful actions caused your injuries, and your evidence must have a high probability of being true. To win punitive damages, you must also have a strong argument for why these damages are necessary based on the defendant’s actions.

When You Can’t Seek Punitive Damages

There are several instances when punitive damages are not offered or awarded in Indiana:

Wrongful Death Cases:

You can’t seek punitive damages for cases of wrongful death in Indiana. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases brought when your loved one dies as a result of someone’s negligent or intentional actions. Wrongful death statutes in Indiana prohibit courts from awarding punitive damages in these cases.

Cases Lacking Willful Misconduct:

You also can’t seek punitive damages for cases without willful misconduct. If the defendant in your personal injury case acted with simple negligence but not intentional malice or misconduct, you can’t seek punitive damages.

The defendant has to be conscious that their actions or behaviors had a high chance of resulting in injury before you can seek a punitive damage award. Willful misconduct also includes when the defendant fails to act, knowing their action could have prevented injury and their inaction could cause harm.

How Much in Punitive Damages Can You Win?

There are limits to how much punitive damages you’ll receive. Indiana’s current laws cap punitive damages at $50,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages, depending on which amount is higher.

The same statute prevents the judge from disclosing caps to the jury and gives judges the power to lower punitive damages if the amount awarded is higher than the cap.

Punitive damages are capped at a lower amount because they’re used to punish the defendant and not compensate the victim. Victims should seek punitive damages to help them get justice against the defendant and dissuade the defendant from engaging in the same behavior in the future, thereby protecting others. In other words, victims should not depend on punitive damages to cover their medical bills and pain and suffering; those have to come from their compensatory damages.

How Wagner Reese Can Help

You should always hire an attorney if you’re dealing with a serious injury, if you think your claims might be disputed by the guilty party or an insurance company, or if you’re seeking punitive damages. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help build your claim and gather evidence to prove the other party’s negligence and liability.

Punitive damages cases have higher burdens of proof than other civil lawsuits and are more challenging to win. They require strong legal arguments and leave no room for error. This is why hiring a lawyer is a must if you’re seeking punitive damages for your injury.

The attorneys at Wagner Reese understand the burden of proof placed on victims. We’ll make sure you’re awarded the damages you deserve. Contact our law office for a consultation of your case.