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Punitive Damages

Courts in New York impose severe damages on people who commit torts that violate public policy. These damages are known as punitive damages because their purpose is to punish defendants rather than to restore plaintiffs’ property or compensate plaintiffs. Punitive damages reflect the community’s values towards the sort of people who commit blatantly irresponsible or purposefully harmful acts. Punitive damages also promote the enforcement of the plaintiff’s rights against those who commit torts, where they may not otherwise consider prosecuting their claims. Punitive damages may offset the expenses and time commitments of litigation.

If you believe you are entitled to punitive damages or you face a claim demanding punitive damages call the knowledgeable and aggressive New York tort litigation lawyers at Tilem & Associates for a free consultation.

Punitive damages are usually reserved for intentional, wanton, willful, or reckless conduct, that reasonable people would consider morally wrong. Punitive damages do not need to be imposed only for conduct that causes intentional harms. Those who commit heedless and irresponsible acts done with reckless and careless states of mind may also have punitive damages imposed on them.

Punitive damages are not available in negligence actions. On the other hand, punitive damages are available in gross negligence claims. What constitutes gross negligence and how is it different from regular negligence? The following example illustrates the kind of conduct that establishes gross negligence. The families of two construction workers killed in a crane accident sued the crane leasing company and its associated owners after the crane they were working on collapsed in the middle of New York City. The crane leasing company’s owners found a broken bearing in the crane’s neck. After evaluating the cost of replacing the bearing in the crane’s neck, the company decided it would be too expensive to replace, so they required an employee with no experience in crane bearings to source a new, less expensive bearing.

The employee found a company in China that agreed to fabricate the bearing for a discounted price. The Chinese company was not sure of the dimensions of the bearing or the forces that it needed to withstand, but the bearing was an acceptable price. The Chinese company used cartoons drawn in MS paint to help clarify the design of the bearing. The Chinese company admitted that they were not confident that they could properly weld the new bearing. The defendants nevertheless purchased the bearing.

Upon receipt of the new bearing the crane leasing company did not test the strength of the bearing’s welds. Despite the fact that the engineers on the project would not certify the bearing, the defendant self-certified the bearing and installed it in the crane. The crane leasing company ordered a second bearing from the Chinese company. This second bearing exhibited defects visible to the naked eye. Still, the crane leasing company did not examine the bearing they installed in the crane. Instead, the crane leasing company and its principal negotiated a rebate from the Chinese company. Thereafter the crane collapsed, causing millions in damage and killing the two crane workers.

The one of the survivors was awarded $15.5 million in compensatory damages and $24 million in punitive damages. The other survivor was awarded $31.5 million in compensatory damages and $24 million in punitive damages.

The previous example may seem to show that extreme harms need to occur for the imposition of punitive damages, but this is not always the case. In fact, nominal damages, in other words, damages in name only, have been used to support judgments of punitive damages in the case of intentional torts, particularly libel. Punitive damages have also been enforced against repeat trespassers where actual malice can be shown, and against those who commit disgusting and offensive torts of intentional battery like groping or spitting on another person. It is therefore necessary for plaintiffs to enforce their rights in the case of unacceptable or morally wrong conduct. Only an experienced attorney can evaluate your claim and determine if punitive damages are available.

Contact us today if you are involved in a case that may have punitive damages or you face a claim demanding punitive. Our New York tort litigation attorneys at Tilem & Associates are available for a free consultation.

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