What are Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Claim?

“If you have been injured in an accident, you are entitled to just compensation.” This statement, which you will see frequently if you are looking for information about your legal rights online, addresses the primary means of securing a financial recovery if you have been injured due to someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct. 

However, in some cases, it will be possible to secure additional payment through a claim for punitive damages. In this article, we will explain:

  • The difference between compensatory and punitive damages; and,
  • When punitive damages are available under Connecticut and New York law.
Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages in a Personal Injury Case
What are Compensatory Damages?

Most personal injury cases involve claims for compensatory damages. As the name suggests, compensatory damages are intended to compensate you for the losses you sustain due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct. Another way to think about compensatory damages is that they are supposed to “make you whole” when you have suffered losses due to injuries sustained in a vehicle collision, fall, or other accident.

Compensatory damages are available in Connecticut and New York for financial and non-financial losses. They are also available for current and future losses. When filing a personal injury claim, it is imperative to ensure that you have a comprehensive understanding of the full amount you are entitled to recover—if you don’t, you could end up settling for a fraction of what you are owed.

What are Punitive Damages?

In contrast, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer who is to blame for a victim’s injuries. When punitive damages are awarded (as discussed below, they are not available in all cases), they are awarded in addition to compensatory damages. Since punitive damages are not tied to the victim’s losses, they can be calculated in a few different ways, which we discuss below.

When are Punitive Damages Available in Connecticut and New York?
Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Claims Under Connecticut Law

Each state has its own laws regarding the availability of punitive damages in personal injury cases. In Connecticut, punitive damages are available in certain cases (i) under common law, and (ii) under statutory law.

1. Common Law Punitive Damages in Connecticut

Under Connecticut common law, punitive damages are available in personal injury cases involving reckless and intentional misconduct. Conduct that justifies a claim for common law punitive damages in Connecticut may also be described as grossly negligent, malicious, outrageous, or exhibiting reckless indifference. In cases involving common law claims for punitive damages, the amount that can be awarded (in addition to the claimant’s compensatory damages) is limited to the costs incurred in pursuing the claim plus the claimant’s legal fees.

2. Statutory Punitive Damages in Connecticut

Under Section 14-295 of the Connecticut Code, additional punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving vehicle collisions resulting from certain traffic violations. Specifically, the statute states:

“In any civil action to recover damages resulting from personal injury, wrongful death or damage to property, the trier of fact may award double or treble damages if the injured party has specifically pleaded that another party has deliberately or with reckless disregard operated a motor vehicle in violation of section 14-218a, 14-219, 14-222, 14-227a, 14-230, 14-234, 14-237, 14-239 or 14-240a, and that such violation was a substantial factor in causing such injury, death or damage to property.”

In Section 14-295, “double or treble damages” refers to doubling or tripling the claimant’s compensatory damages, with the specific amount to be awarded being determined based upon factors including the severity of the traffic violation involved. The violations covered by the statutory sections listed in Section 14-295 include:

  • Traveling unreasonably fast
  • Speeding
  • Reckless driving
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving in the wrong lane
  • Passing in a no-passing zone
  • Crossing a highway divider
  • Driving the wrong way on a one-way street
  • Following too closely
Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Claims Under New York Law

In New York, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the victim can prove that the defendant engaged in extreme or egregious conduct that exhibited complete disregard for the victim’s health or safety. Unlike Connecticut, New York does not have specific guidelines regarding the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded. Instead, New York law calls for consideration of factors including:

  • The severity of the defendant’s conduct
  • The severity of the victim’s physical and emotional trauma
  • The amount of the victim’s compensatory
  • The amount that is necessary to send a clear message to the defendant and the public
Are You Entitled to Punitive Damages? Schedule a Free Consultation to Find Out

If you have been injured in an accident in Connecticut or New York and would like more information about your legal rights, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation. To speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in confidence, call 203-800-8000 or tell us about your case online now.