Punitive Damages: When Can a Lawyer Seek Them?

punitive damages

When it is clear that an out of court settlement cannot be reached, an experienced Las Vegas personal injury lawyer will advise their client to file a lawsuit. While preparing the case, the lawyer may instruct the client to seek punitive damages in addition to the compensatory damages they are entitled to recover. Since many people are not sure whether they have the right to seek this type of damages, the legal team at the Christian Morris Trial Attorneys law firm will discuss the issue of punitive damages in detail.

We are the strongest advocates for our clients and believe that personal injury victims should recover every dollar and cent they are entitled to by law. The suffering, emotional trauma and the economic damages they have endured and have to live with, sometimes for the rest of their life, deserve the largest amount of compensation possible. This is especially true when the fault party acted not just with negligence, but with intent or gross disregard for their victim’s safety and wellbeing.

What Exactly Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages or exemplary damages can be sought in court and awarded by the jury at the end of a personal injury lawsuit. They represent a form of supplementary punishment for the defendant who was found responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries and economic damages.

As our personal injury lawyers in Las Vegas will explain to you, punitive damages can be sought when the injured person can prove that the liable party acted with:

  • Conscious disregard – the willful and deliberate failure to avoid an action which the perpetrator knew would have probable harmful consequences
  • Fraud – the intentional misrepresentation, concealment or deception of a material fact which the perpetrator knows of, with the intention of depriving another person of their rights, property or otherwise causing injury
  • Express or implied malice – a deliberate conduct intended to cause injury to a person
  • Oppression – deliberately subjecting a person to cruel and unjust hardship.

Although these may appear as extreme situation, a seasoned Las Vegas personal injury lawyer has encountered many situations when a liable party’s actions were beyond mere negligence. Thus, the injured party was instructed to seek punitive damages and actually won them at the end of the case.

How to Prove that the Liable Party Acted with Conscious Disregard or Malice

Personal injury lawyers in Las Vegas analyze each case carefully, starting with the identity of the fault party: an individual or a business. Here is how the difference works:

1. Seeking Punitive Damages from an Individual

In the discovery phase of your personal injury case, your lawyer will try to find out if the liable party is a first time offender or whether there were several other complaints against them on the same grounds.

Let us give an example: a premises liability case where deficient security caused a person’s injury and economic damages because an unauthorized person entered the premises and mugged the victim after incapacitating them.

The victim hires a lawyer who finds out that, over a period of time, there were several complaints from tenants that the lock at the entrance door is broken. Yet, the building owner did not replace the broken lock. In this case, the lawyer can prove that the building owner acted with conscious disregard for the safety of their tenants and their guests.

2. Seeking Punitive Damages from an Employer

Personal injury lawyers in Las Vegas will explain to you that you have to prove several aspects in order to be eligible to seek punitive damages from an employer for the injuries caused by one of their employees.

The aspects you need to prove are:

  • The employer knew in advance that the employee was unfit for the purposes of their job
  • Despite this knowledge, the employer hired the employee or allowed them to continue in the respective job role
  • The employer expressly authorized or approved the employer’s act
  • The employer himself or herself is personally guilty of acting with oppression, fraud or malice.

3. Seeking Punitive Damages from a Corporation

Finally, when the liable party is a corporation, things get even more difficult. You are eligible to seek punitive or exemplary damages only if you can prove that:

  • An officer, director or manager of the corporation committed the malicious act
  • An officer, director or manager of the corporation expressly authorized to approve or direct an employee’s actions did so, having the advance knowledge that the employee was not fit for the job role.

For instance, a person files a complaint against a work colleague for violent behavior leading to injuries. During the discovery phase, her Las Vegas personal injury lawyer finds out that another employee wrote a complaint against the same colleague, for the same reason. If the complaint was sent to HR or to a direct manager of the offending employee, then the corporation is liable to pay punitive damages to the current plaintiff.

However, if the complaint has been just an email sent to another employee of the company, who does not hold a managerial position, then the corporation is not liable. They can reasonably argue that the officers, directors or managers had no previous knowledge of the defendant’s history of violent behavior.

The exception to this limitation is when the case is against an insurance company acting in bad faith in its obligations to provide insurance coverage.

What Are the Caps on Punitive Damages in Nevada?

Once they find out that they have the right to seek punitive damages, most of our clients ask: how much money can I get? All US states that allow this category of damages (not all of them do!) put caps on the amount plaintiffs can collect from the defendant.

According to the Nevada Revised Statutes 42.005, in our state these caps are:

  • Three times the amount of compensatory damages if their amount is $100,000 or more,
  • $300,000, if the amount of compensatory damages is less than $100,000.

However, there are no caps on punitive or exemplary damages in the following situations:

  • Product liability – the manufacturer, distributor or seller of a defective product
  • Insurance fraud – an insurer acting in bad faith concerning its obligation to provide insurance coverage
  • Violation of state or federal laws prohibiting discriminatory housing practices (in some situations)
  • Damages caused by the emission, disposal or spilling of toxic, hazardous or radioactive materials or wastes
  • Defamation
  • Motor vehicle accident cause by a driver who consumed alcohol and/or drugs.

Let Our Personal Injury Law Firm Win Your Punitive Damages!

Christian Morris Trial Attorneys is a team of personal injury lawyers in Las Vegas with a combined experience of 30 years. We have the know-how and experience to identify cases when the injured party is entitled to seek punitive damages. And we will fight hard to persuade a jury that you have the right to collect these damages.

Do not let time pass until the statute of limitations (2 years after the date of the incident) expires – call us and schedule a free case review with us: (702) 434-8282!