What Is Alabama's Punitive Damages Statute?
In Alabama, punitive damages are governed by law. Alabama Code Section 6-11-20 provides that punitive damages may be awarded in wrongful death cases and tort actions when there is clear evidence that the defendant intentionally acted with “oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice.”
What Are Punitive Damages?
Many people mistake punitive damages and pain and suffering. However, these two types of damages are distinct. Damages for pain and suffering are compensatory and intended to make the injured victim whole again – to offset the physical and emotional discomfort of their injuries. On the other hand, punitive damages are meant to put an additional penalty on the defendant for their egregious conduct. They are also designed to discourage others from the same actions.
Punitive damages are one of several different types of damages that can be awarded in personal injury claims. Here are some examples of when a court might award punitive damages:
- A driver purposefully hits a pedestrian or other driver with their vehicle
- An intoxicated driver getting behind the wheel of a car and injuring someone else
- A used car salesperson selling a vehicle they know is defective
- Police officers using excessive force motivated by malice, resulting in injuries
In wrongful death cases, Alabama only allows punitive damages to be awarded. A wrongful death claim typically arises when a person dies because of the negligence of others. Generally speaking, it must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate within two years of their death.
What Is Alabama’s Cap on Punitive Damages?
Under Alabama law, punitive damage awards cannot exceed certain limits. The cap for punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits is three times the amount of compensatory damages or $1,500,000 – whichever is greater. For most cases not involving physical injury, punitive damages cannot exceed three times the compensatory damages or $500,000 – whichever is greater. Under the statutory cap on punitive damages, “physical injuries” means actual bodily injuries and does not include the physical symptoms of mental anguish or emotional distress caused by mental suffering.
How to Calculate Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion. Your attorney will calculate punitive damages allowed under Alabama law and present that number for the judge or jury’s consideration.
At Stokes Stemle, LLC, our experienced personal injury attorneys deal with a wide range of claims. From motor vehicle accidents to slips and falls and from dog bites to dangerous drugs, we have the experience to help you with your case.
We can review the circumstances to determine the range of compensable and punitive damages you could be owed. If you are entitled to punitive damages, we won’t hesitate to take your claim to court to demand the full justice you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Alabama.