Punitive damages comes up in cases where individuals are granted funds that go beyond compensation for lost income, pain and suffering, medical costs and so on. As the name implies, the awards are less about compensating the victim and more about exacting justice when a person or entity is guilty of truly gross negligence or even criminal activity. In some cases, these awards can make headlines and the damages we might see on the news can be extremely large – though they are often appealed. However, punitive damages are relatively rare and the vast majority are not dramatically larger than other types of awards
In general, punitive damages are reserved for the very worst cases, usually where the defendant has been shown to have committed an illegal act and/or behaved with malicious intent or extreme irresponsibility. For example, if a pedestrian is injured by driver who was distracted, there would likely be no punitive damages unless, perhaps, if the victim was killed or very badly hurt and the defendant was also texting, intoxicated, etc. However, if it could be shown that the driver deliberately hit a person because of a prejudice or a personal grudge, the situation would be extremely serious. Likely criminal prosecution aside, a judge in a civil case would be likelier to include punitive damages in this kind of egregious circumstance.
If you believe there may be special circumstances in your case that might call for punitive damages, it never hurts to mention it to your attorney.