Punitive damages deter bad conduct of defendants in civil lawsuits. To award punitive damages, plaintiff, by clear and convincing proof, must show 1.) some element of outrageous conduct; and 2.) that defendant acted with a willful, wanton or malicious mental state. To satisfy the ‘clear and convincing’ standard of proof, the evidence must show that defendant knew or had reason to know there was a high probability that its conduct would result in injury. Actual knowledge of the dangerous condition furnishes the element of reckless conduct justifying a punitive damage award.
The judge determines whether or not there is sufficient evidence to allow a jury to award punitive damages. If the elements have been met, the jury can award punitive damages. In awarding punitive damages, the jury can also consider the financial status of the defendants.
Not every case has an element of punitive damages. Pleban & Petruska assesses this element of your case when discussing the facts with you.