Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages in Rock Hill

When a personal injury case goes to trial and victims are successful in their claims, juries have the option to award them compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are typically a combination of economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages refer to easily calculable losses for a victim, such as medical bills, lost income, and property damage. Noneconomic damages are usually for more subjective types of harm, including pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.

An additional form of damages that may be awarded in a very limited number of cases is punitive damages (sometimes referred to as exemplary damages). Punitive damages are not awarded so much to provide additional compensation for a victim as they are intended to punish defendants for particularly reckless or egregious conduct and hopefully discourage others from acting similarly.

If you or your loved one was seriously injured in an accident caused by another party’s negligence in Rock Hill, it is in your best interest to contact Schiller & Hamilton today. Our Rock Hill personal injury attorneys can review your case and help you understand all of your legal options when you call us or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are money awarded in addition to compensatory damages. They are specifically intended to punish defendants for egregious wrongdoing. South Carolina law establishes that any claim for these damages must be included in a complaint, but the plaintiff cannot specify the amount that is sought.

Punitive damages can be awarded only if a plaintiff proves that their injuries were the result of a defendant’s willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. Willful, wanton, and reckless are more severe than gross negligence, which means the failure to exercise care. These definitions are important because defendants, in order to avoid paying these damages, will often argue that their conduct constitutes gross negligence rather than willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.

How to Determine the Value of Punitive Damages 

South Carolina law establishes the process for determining punitive damages.

In the first stage of a trial, a jury determines liability for compensatory damages and the amount that will be awarded. Evidence relevant only to the issue of punitive damages is not admissible at this stage. These damages will then be considered if compensatory or nominal damages were awarded in the first stage of the trial.

The jury determines if a defendant is liable for punitive damages during the second stage of a trial, and when a defendant is determined to be responsible, the amount that will be awarded. The jury can consider all relevant evidence when determining the amount, including:

  • Percentage of fault for both the plaintiff and the defendant
  • Severity of the harm
  • Whether the defendant has acted this way before
  • Whether the defendant attempted to conceal their actions
  • The defendant’s ability to pay
  • How likely these damages are to deter others from repeating their actions in the future

When these damages are awarded, the trial court reviews the jury’s decision to ensure an award is not excessive or inappropriate. In actions with multiple defendants, punitive damages may vary from defendant to defendant, with each defendant responsible only for their own losses.

Caps on Damages in Rock Hill

South Carolina law says that punitive damages awards cannot exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. This limitation cannot be disclosed to a jury.

If the jury returns a verdict for damages that exceed the maximum amount specified, the trial court will first determine whether financial gain motivated the offense and whether the defendant may be convicted of a felony. If the trial court determines that either of these factors listed apply, then these damages cannot exceed four times the amount of compensatory damages or $2 million, whichever is greater.

However, there is no cap on punitive damages when a trial court determines if one of the following apply:

  • The defendant intended to harm the claimant
  • The defendant has pled guilty or been convicted of a felony for the same offense which caused the claimant’s harm
  • The defendant was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other illegal substances

Therefore, the amount of damages you can recover in a lawsuit will vary greatly depending on the details of your case.

An Attorney Could Further Explain the Difference Between Compensatory and Punitive Damages in Rock Hill

Our firm will fight to make sure that you recover all of the damages you are entitled to if someone else’s careless or reckless actions caused you harm. They can also fight for families who lost a loved one due to the negligent or intentional actions of another party.

Your attorney will investigate the accident, including obtaining police reports, gathering your medical records, interviewing witnesses, consulting experts, accident reconstruction, and more. After this step, they will be able to determine whether you are eligible to ask for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.

Whether or not we choose to seek punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages, the Rock Hill personal injury lawyers of Schiller & Hamilton will always fight for what is fair for you. We help our clients see that justice is served, and we want to send a message that reckless actions have consequences.

When you work with us, we will handle all of the documentation, court filings, and negotiations with insurance adjusters and opposing lawyers. If your case has to go to court, we will aggressively represent your interests and fight for the justice and compensation that you are owed.

Call us or contact us online now to have our lawyers provide a complete evaluation of your case during a free consultation.