Punitive damages are monetary penalties meant to punish the defendant for exceptionally egregious wrongdoing and deter others from doing the same thing.
These penalties may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages, which repay the victim for financial loss that happened as a result of their injury.
Punitive damages aren't meant to benefit the plaintiff, although he or she is usually the person who receives the payment. Instead, punitive damages make an example of the offender, and benefit society in general by discouraging the sort of recklessness and maliciousness that the defendant exemplified.
Punitive damages are usually restricted to mass torts and personal injury cases, though not all of these cases will use punitive damages. Typically, the plaintiff must prove the other party had malicious intent, or showed complete disregard to the health and well being of others.
For example, imagine a toy company produced a baby toy and knew its paint was poisonous when ingested. Babies put toys in their mouths all the time, so many children became sick or died after using this toy. The company knew their toy was dangerous, but continued to produce the product anyway. Victims of this company’s abuses could sue for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.
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