Punitive Damages FAQs
North Carolina courts allow for punitive damages to be awarded against a defendant. However, these damages are awarded solely to punish the defendant wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. Punitive damages may be awarded by a judge or jury when there is a finding or determination of fact that an injury or death was caused by a defendant who acted maliciously, wantonly, or otherwise acted in a careless and reckless manner. Punitive damages cannot be awarded just because someone was injured or killed in an accident.
Particular caution is necessary when drafting and filing a complaint that will include a claim for punitive damages. Your attorney must specifically allege aggravating circumstances that give rise to wilful or wanton conduct or careless and reckless behavior. Failure to allege these circumstances could result in dismissal of your claim for punitive damages.
For example, if you are injured by a drunk driver, then you should allege in your complaint that the defendant caused your injury while driving drunk and carelessly and recklessly. Failure to allege these facts will result in dismissal of your claim for punitive damages.
At Riddle & Brantley, we have handled a large number of cases involving drunk drivers and have filed many law suits for our clients that were injured by drunk drivers. We know how to allege these specific facts to allow our clients to pursue a claim for punitive damages. We have found in our many years of experience that we can settle these claims for fair value because the insurance companies and their defense attorneys understand the value of a true claim for punitive damages.
Listed below are a number of helpful answers to common questions about punitive damages
Limits on Punitive Damages
Chapter 1D of the North Carolina General Statutes places some restrictions and limits on punitive damage claims in North Carolina. North Carolina General Statue 1D-15 reads as follows:
- Punitive damages may be awarded only if the claimant proves that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages and that one of the following aggravating factors was present and was related to the injury for which compensatory damages were awarded:
- Willful or wanton conduct.
- The claimant must prove the existence of an aggravating factor by clear and convincing evidence.
- Punitive damages shall not be awarded against a person solely on the basis of vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of another. Punitive damages may be awarded against a person only if that person participated in the conduct constituting the aggravating factor giving rise to the punitive damages, or if, in the case of a corporation, the officers, directors, or managers of the corporation participated in or condoned the conduct constituting the aggravating factor giving rise to punitive damages.
- Punitive damages shall not be awarded against a person solely for breach of contract. (1995, c. 514, s. 1.)
- This statute applies to all types of injury cases where a claim for punitive damages may be made, including auto accidents, tractor trailer accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, dog bites, product liability claims, assaults and more. The most common claim we see for punitive damages involves clients who are injured in auto accidents by drunk drivers.
However, we have handled several claims for injuries as a result of unprovoked assaults and even gunshots (victims of shootings).
A judge will instruct a jury to award punitive damages when the two following facts are determined:
- The defendant is liable for compensatory damages for injury caused to another person; and
- The defendant’s behavior included an aggravating factor such as:
- Defendant’s fraud caused the injury;
- Defendant acted with malice when he caused the injury; or
- Defendant’s actions were wilful or wanton or careless or reckless when he injured the victim.
Again, the most notable cases we see involving a claim for punitive damages involves a drunk driver on the other side.
Limit on the Amount of Punitive Damages:
With North Carolina General Statute 1D-25, our legislature set a limit on the amount of damages that a judge or jury can allow for punitive damages. By statute, punitive damages SHALL NOT exceed three (3) times the amount given for compensatory damages (the amount given for the injury itself) or $250,000, whichever is greater. This means that if a jury gives you $50,000 for your injuries as the result of an assault, a jury or judge cannot award you an amount for punitive damages in excess of $250,000. In addition, if a jury awards you $200,000 for your injuries, then the award for punitive damages cannot exceed $600,000. If a jury awards a verdict in excess of the maximum amount allowed, then the judge will reduce the award for punitive damages to statutory maximum. There is one major exception to this cap on punitive damages. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-26, this limit of $250,000 or three times your compensatory damages SHALL NOT apply if the defendant was driving while intoxicated at the time he injured the victim.
Unfortunately, if the defendant wrongdoer is dead, there will be no claim for punitive damages. However, if the victim dies as a result of the wrongdoer’s careless and reckless behavior then the estate of the deceased may pursue a claim for punitive damages.
The attorneys at Riddle & Brantley have handled many claims for punitive damages ranging from auto accidents to dog bites and even assaults with firearms.
As a general rule, most of these cases are resolved for fair value as all parties understand the value of claims for punitive damages based upon the bad actions of the defendant.
If you think you have a claim for punitive damages or have been injured by a drunk driver or a driver who was texting and driving at the time of the accident, please contact us immediately by completing a contact form on this page or calling (800) 525-7111.
At the law offices of Riddle & Brantley, our team of attorneys are ready to help.