When Am I Entitled to Punitive Damages in a New York Personal Injury Case?

Victims of accidents in New York are entitled to sue and recover damages for injuries they sustained because of someone else’s bad behavior. Once liability is established, usually by proving negligence, victims are entitled to compensatory damages they can prove in court for both the economic and noneconomic harms they have suffered. However, in some situations, victims can be entitled to more.

Punitive damages are designed with the dual purpose of punishing a defendant’s exceedingly bad behavior as well as serving to deter that defendant and others from engaging in the same behavior in the future. Punitive damages are entirely at the discretion of the judge or jury – both as to whether an award should be given and the amount. However, the standard for a defendant to recover punitive damages is much higher than simply proving negligence.

New York Punitive Damages

In New York, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant acted with complete disregard for the plaintiff’s safety or health to recover punitive damages. Rather, according to the Second Circuit, the plaintiff must present clear evidence of a defendant’s conduct reflects such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others that it may be called “willful and wanton.” This standard of proof is much higher than the standard for establishing negligence, which merely requires the plaintiff establish the elements of negligence “more likely than not” occurred.

Currently, there is no strict guideline to determine if clear evidence of “willful and wanton negligence” exists to merit a punitive damage award. However, some cases have given guidance as to situations where plaintiffs may be entitled to punitive damages. The Second Circuit has noted that punitive damages are permissible when a defendant’s actions “evince a high degree of moral turpitude” and demonstrate a criminal indifference to their civil obligations. The Second Circuit and New York Court of Appeal also found “willful or wanton” conduct sufficient to merit punitive damages when a defendant had notice or and even ignored a court order, resulting in harm to the plaintiff.

For example of a case that rose to the level of “willful or wanton” conduct meriting a successful claim for punitive damages in a New York personal injury case: A diabetic, hypoglycemic hospital plaintiff was injected with an insulin reducing drug by a nurse who had already committed a previous medication administration error and was not given additional training or guidance. After the injection, neither the nurse nor the on-call doctor took any steps to monitor the plaintiff’s insulin levels throughout the night during which the plaintiff died. The plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages was upheld on appeal.

New York Personal Injury Legal Help

New York personal injury cases are complicated, emotional and confusing. If you are dealing with an injury or a death and want to learn more about seeking compensation from the responsible party and about the possibility of punitive damages, get in touch with the talented team of New York personal injury lawyers at MOWK Law. We are here to help.