One of the primary purposes of any personal injury action is for the victim to receive financial compensation for their damages and losses. But an equally important purpose of a personal injury action is to hold the defendant accountable for their actions.
How is that accomplished in cases where the defendant’s actions are particularly offensive? What if the defendant hurt someone on purpose, or they’re extremely reckless?
Punitive Damages in Missouri
Missouri law has an answer to these questions. Punitive damages are additional damages that may be awarded in a personal injury case. Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim for their losses, although it is the victim who receives them. Instead, they punish the defendant for extremely offensive conduct.
The victim has the burden to prove that an award of punitive damages is appropriate. Our personal injury attorneys discuss proving punitive damages in Missouri.
What do you have to prove to get punitive damages in Missouri?
Getting punitive damages begins with understanding what you need to prove to receive them. Missouri Code §510.261 says that an award of punitive damages is appropriate when the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff or deliberately and flagrantly disregarded the safety of others. The victim must prove punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence.
Clear and convincing is a high burden used in the law. It’s a higher standard than the victim must satisfy to prove their right to compensatory damages.
The proof needed to get punitive damages is elevated in two different ways. First, the burden of proof itself is higher than the burden for compensatory damages – clear and convincing vs. a preponderance of the evidence. Second, the plaintiff has the added requirement to show intentional harm or a flagrant disregard for safety. This, too, is elevated from what is required to prove the right to economic and non-economic damages.
How do you prove punitive damages in Missouri?
Punitive damages are not part of the initial pleading in a Missouri civil case. Instead, the victim must move to add them not less than 120 days before the final pretrial conference date. They must support their filing with affidavits, exhibits, and discovery materials. The defense can oppose the request with their own evidence. The court decides whether to allow the victim to claim punitive damages. The standard for the court’s review is whether a trier of fact could reasonably award punitive damages.
If the victim gets the approval of the court, then they may proceed to argue punitive damages to the jury. Before the jury, they have the task of proving what the defendant’s conduct was and showing how that conduct was intentional or deliberately in disregard for the safety of others.
Proving punitive damages is like any other factual proof – the party with the burden of proof must prove their case. Eyewitnesses may testify to the actions of the defendant. Expert witnesses may be needed to explain complex or technical information. An expert may be extremely useful to show how behavior was extremely dangerous and created a risk to others. The victim must make the appropriate arguments to the jury about how to draw conclusions from the evidence. They must respond to evidence and arguments presented by the defense.
Remember that punitive damages are awarded only if compensatory damages are awarded. Part of proving the right to punitive damages is proving the underlying case and the right to damages for losses. None of the steps may be overlooked.
Missouri Attorneys to Prove Punitive Damages
Claiming punitive damages can be an important part of receiving justice for a personal injury claim. Punitive damages can significantly increase the amount of compensation awarded. The award can also serve the purpose of creating a finding of liability for intentional or extremely dangerous conduct.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help you evaluate your case to determine if it qualifies to claim punitive damages. If it does, they can assert the demand and submit the supporting documents. Then, your attorney can prepare the evidence to present during the trial.