In civil cases, the plaintiff can be awarded compensatory or actual damages such as hospital bills, medical equipment, and property damages. Exemplary or punitive damages may be awarded by the court also; however, these may only be pursued when the defendant's actions are purposefully done. Exemplary damages must stem from the defendant's intent based on fraud, willful or wanton conduct, or malice. Assuming that this burden of proof has been met, how do jurors determine a dollar amount to award for punitive damages? Jurors receive instructions from the court, which contrary to many aspects of civil procedure, can be viewed as vague. Colorado is no exception, as the instructions are essentially that you determine the amount (if any) of punitive damages necessary to punish the defendant and act as a deterrent to prevent others from acting similarly.
Colorado's View on Exemplary Awards
Compared to some other states, CO laws could be viewed as being more stringent to control or limit exemplary (punitive) awards. The state generally limits these awards to the value or amount of actual damages awarded in the case. Punitive damages can therefore only be added in addition to compensatory (actual) damages, never exclusively on their own. While most states have a burden of proof requirement for such damages as being something similar to “clear and convincing evidence”, Colorado's cites that it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions were willful and wanton. The state also seeks to avoid jurors making these decisions based on bias or prejudice.
Factors for Guidance on Reasonable Award
There is clearly not a precise way of assessing an amount in awarding punitive damages, although many feel this flexibility is a positive. The thought here is that the jury, or trier of fact, can individualize or customize the value of the award based on the facts of a particular case. Factors for determination include:
- The nature of the defendant's actions and severity of them.
- The award should be sufficient in truly punishing the defendant financially.
- How strongly the award will act as a public deterrent.
The courts ultimately strive to keep exemplary awards within the limits of the compensatory award and are permitted to actually reduce the size of such awards if it may not have a solid deterrence effect. A provision exists allowing the court to increase the award up to triple the actual damages if the defendant has continued their actions to the plaintiff or others, or intentionally aggravated the matter during the case.
Personal injury cases are based on the general principals of liability and accountability for people's actions. Have the actions of another party suddenly transformed you into an injury victim? The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has delivered for their Colorado clients based on their excellent track record of securing verdicts and settlements. Make the call to the office today to review the details of your case.