Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Great American Court Cases » Damages - Compensatory Damages: General Damages, Consequential Damages, Punitive Damages, Nominal Damages, Liquidated Damages

Damages - Punitive Damages

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Punitive damages are a non-compensatory type of damages used to penalize or deter behavior. They are used to punish a defendant who has acted in a willful, wanton, malicious, abusive or other outrageous manner. Punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages because they make an example of the defendant in order to deter others. Punitive damages are never mandatory and are only awarded in addition to an award for compensatory damages. Punitive damages are rarely permitted in breach of contract cases.

Determining an award of punitive damages involves a careful examination of the defendant's conduct and state of mind at the time of the misconduct. Unlike compensatory damages, evidence of a defendant's worth may be presented when determining a punitive damages award. Sometimes, statutes authorize double or treble damages as a punitive measure. For example, vehicle dealers who alter an automobile's odometer reading must pay treble damages. Other areas where a damages multiplier is used include antitrust, trademark, patent, and consumer protection statutes.

The constitutionality of punitive damages has been challenged in recent years on grounds that it violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines or the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process clause. However, relief from punitive damages via a constitutional challenge has thus far proven to be an elusive avenue of relief. In one case, the Supreme Court upheld a punitive damages award that was more than 500 times the compensatory award.

When a judge determines that a damages verdict is excessive or inadequate, the judge may reconsider the award without ordering a new trial or the necessity of an appeal. If a judge determines that an award is inadequate, she may order additur, whereby the defendant is ordered to pay a greater sum. Remittitur is a reduction of a jury verdict deemed excessive by the trial judge.

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