What are punitive damages?

If you were injured or lost someone to wrongful death in New Mexico, you may pursue legal action against the offending party whether they were an individual or a corporation. That action may result in awards exceeding the typical medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of companionship, hedonic damages or anything else associated with losses caused by the injury or death. In that case, a judge choosing to award damages well beyond the necessary for recompense can be considered punitive damages.

According to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court, judges may award punitive damages if they feel the defendant's actions were enacted out of maliciousness, reckless disregard for plaintiff rights or oppressive behavior. If the judge determines that the defendant in the suit deliberately acted out of ill will or spite with the intent to harm the plaintiff, or if the defendant knowingly took risks that would endanger the plaintiff's rights, then the judge may rightfully award punitive damages.

The sole purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant and discourage them from repeat actions in the future. Judges are expected to make decisions regarding these cases without bias toward the plaintiff and without the goal of seeking further compensation for the plaintiff. Strict criteria are set out for how judges may make a determination regarding punitive damages, and what a reasonable amount for those damages would be without displaying bias toward the plaintiff or against the specific defendant.

This information is for reference purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.

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