What are punitive damages?

When someone is hurt in an accident, the non-negligent party is likely owed compensation from the intentionally harmful or negligent party. In the State of Colorado, if the negligent party acted with malicious intent or was unreasonably reckless in their conduct that caused the injury, the plaintiff may be owed Exemplary Damages. Often times, these types of damages are referred to as punitive, but under Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-102, the name of the statute is titled: Exemplary Damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish the negligent party because they either caused the injury intentionally or acted with an excessive degree of recklessness.

Exemplary, or punitive damages, are capped, which means plaintiffs will be limited in how much they can collect for these types of damages. In most personal injury cases, there are two types of damages: punitive and compensatory. Compensatory damages are meant to handle the medical expenses or lost wages. Compensatory damages focus specifically on the actual damages suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the accident, such as medical bills or loss of property.

It is important to know that there are a few restrictions that the law places on the courts when awarding exemplary damages. First, exemplary damages can never be awarded in excess of the actual damages awarded to the injured party. Meaning, if you have $100,000 in medical expenses, the exemplary damages cannot exceed $100,000. Second, the court also restricts exemplary damages by not allowing the courts to award more than three times the amount of the actual damages and less than $250,000 (there are some exceptions to this rule if there has been a death).

To further the example, if compensatory (or actual) damages are $100,000, the most a plaintiff could receive in exemplary damages is $250,000 (Three times $100,000 is $300,000, but the total must be less than $250,000; with capped ceiling). However, in order for a plaintiff to receive an amount beyond the compensatory damages, the statute requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant acted repeatedly reckless in a willful and wanton manner, or knowingly aggravated the action that caused the injury.

It is important to remember these limitations when you are suffering a catastrophic loss to ensure you make an effective, long-term plan for you and your family. If you have questions about a personal injury or other legal matter, contact Harding & Associates at 800-878-7888 or 303-762-9500.

Citations: CRS 13-21-102, CRS 13-21-203

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