In a lawsuit where an individual was severely injured, there are two types of financial compensation that can be awarded. Compensatory damages, often referred to as actual damages, are designed to compensate the victim for their losses. Examples of these could include medical bills, vehicle damage etc. Exemplary damages, or punitive damages, are awarded when the actions of another were influenced by some intent beyond simply negligence. Determining whether exemplary damages are applicable in a Colorado case involves measuring the circumstances within the defined law by interpreting C.R.S 13-21.
Willful & Wanton Conduct
In civil cases where someone was injured, the jury may award exemplary damages if it is determined that the harm was inflicted with fraud, malice, or willful and wanton conduct. Willful and wanton activity means that the defendant's action(s) were done purposefully. The defendant was aware of, or realized the danger, yet heedlessly or recklessly acted with no regard for the consequences. After the parties have exchanged disclosures the plaintiff may make a claim for damages if a triable issue for it exists. The court may then allow for discovery relating to exemplary damages at its discretion. The amount that is considered reasonable is not to exceed the amount of actual (compensatory) damages that the plaintiff is awarded.
Reductions or Increases in Amount Awarded
The court may reduce or eliminate the exemplary damages in some circumstances:
- Awarding the damages would not have a deterrent effect.
- The willful and wanton disregard has been fully stopped.
- The intended purpose for the exemplary damages has been addressed already.
In addition, the court may increase the amount of an award to be three times that of the compensatory (actual) damages if:
- The defendant has continued a pattern of willful and wanton disregard against the plaintiff.
- The defendant has continued willful and wanton actions against other parties.
- During the proceedings the defendant has further aggravated the plaintiff's current damages.
Determining the Defendant's Ability to Pay
The law does not allow for discovery of the plaintiff's current income, net worth, or insurance policy limitations in civil actions for damages. The court has on many occasions emphasized its commitment to maintain exemplary damages at a reasonable level. It does not want to base the value of such awards on the level of a defendant's economic status. Further, the courts do not wish to encourage cases based on securing solely punitive awards.
Have the reckless or malicious actions of another party caused serious injury to you? Fortunately, Colorado law allows for you to seek financial compensation for the consequences of other's careless actions. Selecting the right legal representation is critical to your case. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has been successfully defending victims of injury for many years. Contact the office today for a complimentary consultation.