Personal injury lawsuits exist so that injured parties can be compensated for the damages (harms and losses) that occur as a result of the wrongdoing when someone or some company does not follow the rules of safety. Harms and losses can be past and future lost wages, past and future medical bills, property damage, loss of enjoyment of life, mental and physical suffering, and those types of injuries. There are some cases, however, that go beyond simple compensation. Sometimes, there is cause to punish the defendant, much the same way that people are punished in the criminal justice system when they do wrong. In these instances, the defendant may be ordered to pay an additional sum of money known as punitive damages.
Punitive damages are intended to be a form of punishment for severe wrongdoing that was especially harmful. The point is to deter this person or company from committing the same egregious act again. Most Americans are familiar the concept of punitive damages. They are often the primary focus in media coverage of high profile cases. This kind of exposure has given the general public the impression that this is a common practice, but in fact, you will only hear of punitive damages being awarded in a small percentage of cases. This is due to the stringent requirements that are associated with punitive damages. The majority of cases simply do not qualify.
In order to be awarded punitive damages, the injured party (and their legal team) must prove that the defendant intentionally disregarded the health and well-being of others. Generally speaking, the act must have been reckless and dangerous. This is why you almost never hear of punitive damages being awarded in breach of contract cases. They can occur in any case, but the most commonly awarded punitive damages occur in medical malpractice lawsuits.In cases that do qualify for punitive damages, the amount that is awarded depends on the wealth of the defendant. In Mississippi, the maximum amount that is permitted by law is 2% of the guilty party’s net worth. This doesn’t usually amount to much. For example, the average household net worth in Mississippi is $335,826. Based on that information, 2% of the average Mississippian’s net worth is less than $7,000. Even if you are injured by an exceptionally wealthy individual, our state has a separate set of limitations that apply to defendants worth $50 Million or more. Punitive damages are meant to be a corrective action; they are not intended to bankrupt the defendant.