When another party causes an injury, that party can be held financially liable for the victim’s damages. Damages include medical bills, lost wages, and other economic damages for financial losses. The damages awarded in a personal injury case can also include non-economic damages for pain and suffering.
In cases that meet specific requirements, the injured party could also receive punitive damages. While punitive damages are not designed to compensate the victim for losses, the victim receives the money if a jury or court enters an award for punitive damages.
Punitive damages “punish” an at-fault party (defendant) for their conduct. The conduct must meet the requirements for punitive damages defined by Colorado law. Colorado law refers to punitive damages as exemplary damages.
Punitive damages are allowed under Colorado Revised Statutes §13-21-102 when the circumstances surrounding the injury involve fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct. If the jury finds these conditions exist, they can award punitive damages.
By default, the amount of punitive damages is not to exceed an amount equal to the amount of the actual damages awarded to the injured party. Therefore, if the jury awards the victim $200,000 for economic and non-economic damages, the maximum punitive damages award would be $200,000.
However, the court can increase or decrease an award for punitive damages.
A judge can reduce or disallow an award of punitive damages if:
Judges can also increase the award for punitive damages if the party continues the behavior or actions willfully and wantonly while the case is pending. The behavior can be toward the injured party or another party.
The judge can also increase punitive damages if the party acted willfully and wantonly during the case in a manner that increased the victim’s damages. The party must have known or should have known the action would increase the victim’s damages.
The statute defines “willful and wanton conduct” as actions that are intentionally committed by a party when that party knows the actions are dangerous. The conduct is heedlessly and recklessly committed without regard to the consequences or the rights and safety of other people.
Malice is acting with evil intent without property cause or justification. The party acted with the intent of causing harm to another person, such as stabbing someone or intentionally hitting a pedestrian.
Fraud is a false representation of an important fact. It is made with the intent to deprive the victim of a legal right. Fraud is generally used in cases involving financial wrongdoing.
Judges and jurors can consider various evidence of a party’s wrongdoing when deciding whether to award punitive damages and how much to award for punitive damages. Evidence of the party’s wrongdoing includes, but is not limited to:
The judge and jury can consider other evidence when making their decision. However, they should not consider the income of the at-fault party or their net worth when awarding punitive damages.
A statute of limitations restricts the time to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires, a judge can dismiss your lawsuit, even if your claim is valid.
A claim for punitive damages is part of your personal injury case. Therefore, you would include a claim for punitive damages in your personal injury lawsuit.
Colorado’s statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years from the injury or accident date. If the injury is caused by using or operating a motor vehicle, the deadline is extended to three years.
However, factors in your case and exceptions to the law can change the filing deadline for a personal injury case. Therefore, it is wise to seek legal advice as soon as possible after an injury or accident.
Our Denver personal injury attorneys at Zaner Harden Law evaluate your case for all types of damages. We pursue each source of compensation to maximize the amount you recover for your personal injury case. Call now at (720) 613-9706 or contact us online for a free case evaluation with one of our attorneys.