What are "punitive damages?"

Punitive damages are best described as "punishment damages." Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are available when a defendant's behavior is so egregious, that it socially unacceptable. The goal of punitive damages is to deter a defendant from engaging in this type of behavior in the future.

In Oregon, in order for a plaintiff to bring a claim for punitive damages, the injured plaintiff must first establish evidence that the defendant's behavior for exceeded the bounds of socially tolerable conduct. If the plaintiff has such evidence, then the plaintiff must file a motion to amend her complaint so that the punitive damage request can be included as part of the lawsuit.

Over the years, the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court have ruled on what kinds of behavior allows for punitive damages. Criminal behavior, obviously because it is not socially accepted, will give rise to a claim for punitive damages. Assault, battery, and drunk driving are some common examples of behavior that allows a claim for punitive damages.

Even if a plaintiff is permitted to bring a claim for punitive damages, she will face several obstacles. First, the amount of damages awarded has to be rationally related to the defendant's behavior, and in some cases, the courts will find some awards excessive, in violation of the defendant precious constitutional rights. There must be some connection between the behavior, and the defendant's wealth in assessing punitive damage awards.

Some other facts about punitive damages:

  • In almost all cases, insurance will not cover any award for punitive damages. This is especially true with punitive damages arising from criminal behavior. It is a public policy in Oregon that people should not be able to ensure their criminal behavior. That only makes sense.
  • There are caps on how much an attorney can recover as an attorney fee out of a punitive damages award.
  • 60% of any punitive damages award are payable to the Attorney General for Criminal Injuries Compensation Account of the Department of Justice Crime Victim's Assistant Section, and is allocated toward crime's victims assistance payments.
  • 10% of the punitive damages award is also payable to the Attorney General. However this part of the award goes to a State Court Facilities and Security Account.

In many cases, we have represented people who were injured, and also considered a crime victim. There are many considerations when dealing with a District Attorney Victims Compensation office while at the same time, pursuing a personal injury claim.

If you are a crime victim, and have questions about your dealings with the District Attorney, and your personal injury claim, call us at 503-325-8600. We have helped many people get through this process, and can answer your questions.

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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Joe Di Bartolomeo is a top rated personal injury lawyer helping Oregon and Washington families