How Does a Legal System Use Punitive Damages?

Recently the term punitive damages received repeated usage in British Columbia.The laws now state that if a driver under alcohol or drug influence has caused an accident, he or she could get named in a personal injury lawsuit. That new law exposes the same driver to the risk of getting charged for punitive damages.

What are punitive damages?

By hitting the defendant in a personal injury case with punitive damages, the accident lawyer in Chilliwack takes advantage of its ability to punish the same defendant’s behavior. A defendant deserves such punishment if he or she has behaved in a reckless, offensive or dangerous manner. A defendant in a personal injury case can be punished for his or her behavior if the court recognizes the existence of 4 elements in the plaintiff’s case.

What are the 4 elements that the court looks for, before using a required payment to punish a defendant in a personal injury case?

• The plaintiff will get the compensatory damages first.
• The jury has reason to believe that the defendant acted maliciously or purposefully.
• The payment being asked (damages) is proportionate to the defendant’s crime.
• The amount requested in the punitive award cannot be more than 10 times the value of what the plaintiff will get awarded for his or her losses.

One detail that is lacking in the last of the 4 elements

Although there is a limit on the maximum size of the defendant’s payment, there is no minimum. A jury could rule that a defendant did do a small amount of damage to a plaintiff. Still, that same jury could demonstrate the lack of concern for any losses by requesting only a small amount of money from the defendant. The jury would have had its own view of the actions taken by the defendant. Hence, a jury would have requested a payment that it found proportionate to the defendant’s crime.

What are some examples of malicious and purposeful behavior on the part of a defendant?

• Conduct that exposes members of the public to a high degree of harm
• Conduct that displays a high disregard for the established laws and statutes

Does the lawyer for the plaintiff have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the defendant’s behavior was malicious or purposeful?

No, the plaintiff’s attorney only has to produce evidence that it is more likely than not that the defendant’s behavior could be categorized as malicious or purposeful. A personal injury case does not get heard in a criminal court. Hence, the level of required proof from the plaintiff’s injury lawyer in Coquitlam does not rise to the level demanded in a criminal court.