What Are Punitive Damages?

punitive damages
Winstein, Kavensky & Cunningham Blog August 15, 2021

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages (also called exemplary damages) are a kind of financial compensation that sometimes may be awarded to personal injury victims. Unlike the more common compensatory damages, which are intended to benefit the claimant and help pay for costs associated with their injury, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and to deter others from similar behavior in the future.

How punitive damages are awarded (and how much compensation an injured claimant can receive) depends largely upon the unique circumstances of each case and the punitive damage laws that apply in each state. Learn more about how punitive damages work in the Quad Cities with this guide from the personal injury lawyers at Winstein, Kavensky, and Cunningham.

Punitive Damages in Iowa 

Punitive damages in Iowa are defined in Iowa Code § 668A.1. The law states that in order for a request for punitive damages on behalf of a plaintiff, the following criteria must be met:

  1. The behavior of the defendant “constituted willful and wanton disregard for the rights or safety of another.” The defendant’s conduct must be satisfactorily documented by clear and convincing evidence.
  2. The defendant’s behavior was directed specifically at the claimant, or at the person who is being represented in the lawsuit.

In order to receive full punitive damages, a plaintiff must meet both of the criteria listed above. However, if at least the first criterion is satisfied (but not the second), the plaintiff may still be able to recover up to 25% of the full amount of punitive damages. The remainder of the punitive damages are then paid into a civil reparations trust fund.

Which Cases Qualify for Punitive Damages?

Iowa’s punitive damages law does not specify which types of personal injury cases can and cannot qualify for punitive damages, only that they must meet the above requirements. It is up to individual courts to determine when punitive damages may be appropriate. However, the Iowa Tort Claims Act does limit the ability of plaintiffs to recover punitive damages from defendants who are state agencies or state employees. 

Because many personal injuries stem from accidents and not intentional conduct, punitive damages are not commonly awarded in Iowa. However, car accidents, semi-truck crashes, bike accidents, workplace accidents, dog bites, and many other kinds of cases may qualify for punitive damages in Iowa under the right circumstances.

What’s the Maximum Amount of Punitive Damages You Can Receive?

There is no legal cap on punitive damages in Iowa civil cases. In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process.” This seems to lean towards capping punitive damages at nine times the amount of compensatory damages.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court has not set a rigid precedent–-and neither has the Iowa Supreme Court, stating that an 18 to 1 ratio of damages wouldn’t be excluded if there are aggravating factors. Essentially, how much the court may award the plaintiff in punitive damages can vary dramatically depending on the circumstances of each case. To find out how much you could be entitled to, it is best to consult an experienced Quad Cities injury attorney.

Punitive Damages in Illinois

Punitive damages in the state of Illinois are defined in Illinois Compiled Statutes 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05. The law states that any plaintiff seeking punitive damages in Illinois must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant behaved “with evil motive or with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others”. 

Which Cases Qualify for Punitive Damages?

In Illinois, only certain kinds of civil lawsuits, including personal injury cases, may qualify for punitive damages. Punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving bodily injury, physical damage to property caused by negligence, or in product liability cases. Eligible cases include motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, nursing home abuse, and dram shop claims, to name a few. 

The law also expressly states that punitive damages are not recoverable in “healing art” (i.e., medical malpractice) or legal malpractice cases. You can, however, still recover compensatory damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering in these cases.

What’s the Maximum Amount of Punitive Damages You Can Receive?

The Illinois Compiled Statutes caps the amount of money that can be awarded to plaintiffs seeking punitive damages at a rate of three times the amount of compensatory damages they were awarded. 

In general, if compensatory damages were not awarded, a claimant cannot request punitive damages. The exception to this rule is if the defendant has been convicted of a criminal offense related to the property damage, bodily injury, or wrongful death of a person and has been sentenced to a period of incarceration.

Find Out if You’re Eligible for Punitive Damages

At the end of the day, most civil cases in the Quad Cities won’t ultimately result in punitive damages. However, despite this fact many cases are eligible for significant financial compensation. If you have been injured in a car accident or otherwise suffered injury because of someone else’s negligent or reckless actions, you could be entitled to compensatory damages for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and more.

To find out how much your case may be worth, contact Winstein, Kavensky, and Cunningham.  Our attorneys have a combined 120 years of experience representing the varied legal interests of clients in the Quad Cities and have the skill, focus, and perseverance required to build a strong claim backed by evidence.

To find out more about how our law firm can help you, contact us directly to schedule a free consultation. We’ll review your case details at no cost, and with no obligation to hire us. Call us today at (309) 794-1515, fill out this form, or connect with a live representative online right now. The consultation is free, and there’s no fees unless we make a financial recovery on your behalf. Contact us today!

The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing herein should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.