When Can You Recover Punitive Damages in Colorado?
Compensatory (or actual) damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit are meant to reimburse the victim for their loss. For example, this may include funds for repairing a person’s vehicle or paying their medical bills after an automobile collision that was caused by another driver’s negligence.
Of course, many types of losses cannot be fully repaired. A victim who was disabled in a collision may receive funds to pay for a wheelchair and build access ramps for their home, but they will never be able to walk again. And no amount of money in a wrongful death claim could ever fully compensate the plaintiff for the loss of a loved one.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not meant to make the victim whole or to help them put their lives back together. Instead, punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for committing a truly heinous act and discourage others from doing similar things.
When Are Punitive Damages Recoverable?
Punitive damages are referred to as exemplary damages in the law. The court may determine that punitive damages are appropriate when the defendant’s actions are conspicuously flagrant and unacceptable. The objective is not merely to punish the offender, but to send a message that the community will not tolerate such atrocious behavior.
If the court finds clear and convincing evidence of fraud, malice, or wanton misconduct, the judge may instruct the jury on the type of punitive damages recoverable by the plaintiff.
Fraud, Malice, and Willful or Wanton Conduct?
Fraud is legally defined as making a false representation of one or more important facts with the intent to deprive the victim of a legal right. To prove fraud, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant knew they were lying, and their false statements resulted in harm to the defendant. An example of fraud would be to knowingly give someone a fake check to purchase an item.
Malice is the intent or desire to harm another person. An example of malice would be a home invasion robbery where the perpetrators planned to kill the victims in advance so there wouldn’t be any witnesses.
Willful or wanton conduct is acting with reckless disregard for the health and safety of others, even when you know your actions are likely to cause harm. Street racing in a residential neighborhood where children and other pedestrians are present is an example of willful or wanton conduct.
Is There a Limit for Punitive Damages in Colorado?
In Colorado punitive damages cannot be greater than the actual damages that the jury awards. But the court is allowed to exceed the actual damages by up to three times under the following circumstances:
- The defendant has repeatedly committed a pattern of willful or wanton behavior against the plaintiff or someone else.
- The defendant has continued to commit damaging behavior against the plaintiff while a legal case was pending against them.
Were You Harmed by Another Person’s Careless Behavior?
Our partners have been recognized as leading American litigators by Colorado Super Lawyers®, Martindale-Hubbell®, and The Inner Circle of Advocates. We have recovered millions of dollars in claims for our clients.
Call Leventhal Puga Braley P.C. at (303) 759-9945 to learn more today. You won’t owe us anything unless we win your case.