Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania

Please read my other article on Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania here.  If you have a question regarding a possible punitive damage situation, please call me and I will give you my impressions for free with no obligations.
 
Punitive damages can be sought in almost any lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania. But you have to show that the Defendant's actions were so outrageous as to warrant punishment. Because plaintiffs have been injured in some way by the defendant their first thought often times is "we deserve punitive damages!" But because punitive damages can be so harsh, the standard in PA for establishing such claims is difficult to meet.

Pennsylvania courts have expressly adopted the principle that punitive damages are damages, other than compensatory or nominal, awarded against a person to punish them for outrageous conduct and to deter such person and others like them from similar conduct in the future. "Punitive damages" are to serve as a penalty to the defendant and are not for the purpose of providing additional compensation to the plaintiff. PA law presumes that a plaintiff has been made whole for his injuries by compensatory damages, so punitive damages may only be awarded if the defendant's culpability, after having paid compensatory damages, is so reprehensible as to warrant the imposition of further sanctions to achieve punishment or deterrence.

More specifically, punitive damages can be awarded only when the defendant deliberately proceeds to act or fails to act in conscious disregard of, or indifference to, a high degree of risk of physical harm to another of which the actor knows or has reason to know. The required state of mind is more aptly described as an indifference to a known risk, rather than failure to appreciate the degree of risk from a known danger. Joll, et al. v. Friedline, et al. 58 Som.L.J. 140 (1996). To warrant the imposition of a penalty, the act must have been committed with a view to oppress; the conduct must involve some element of outrage similar to that usually found in a crime. Such conduct does not exist unless the actor knows, or must have been aware of the specific high degree of risk. Joll, et al. v. Friedline, et al. 58 Som.L.J. 140 (1996) (P.J. Fike). Reckless indifference to the interests of others' means that the actor has intentionally done an act of an unreasonable character, in disregard to a risk known to him or so obvious that he must be taken to have been more aware of it, and so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow.

Additionally, it is important to note that a request for punitive damages does not constitute a cause of action in and of itself. Therefore, if there are no direct claims that are viable, the claim for punitive damages fails. When punitive damages are claimed in a civil action, the requisite factual basis must appear in the complaint and the pleading requirements are strict. If you don't plead facts sufficient to establish claims of punitive damages, you will be barred from seeking such damages at trial.

If you believe you have been subjected to behavior that would warrant the imposition of punitive damages I would be happy to discuss with you your options and likelihood of success in court. Share this post :
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