Posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2024 at 6:03 pm    

Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages Explained in Oklahoma Image

When someone else’s negligence or intentional actions cause you harm, you may be entitled to receive damages through a personal injury lawsuit. Oklahoma law allows plaintiffs to recover two main types of damages: compensatory and punitive. Understanding the critical differences between compensatory and punitive damages is essential if you are considering legal action.

What Are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages aim to compensate the plaintiff for their losses due to the defendant’s conduct. The goal is to financially make the victim “whole” again, to the extent possible. Compensatory damages fall into two main categories: general damages and special damages. General damages, also known as non-economic damages, compensate for intangible losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Special damages cover quantifiable monetary losses such as medical expenses, property damage, loss of income, and other out-of-pocket expenses directly resulting from the defendant’s actions.

Economic (Monetary) Damages

Economic damages have a specific dollar value attached to them. They include:

  • Medical bills (past and future)
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Out-of-pocket expenses related to the injury

Economic damages are calculated based on the plaintiff’s actual monetary losses. Medical bills, pay stubs, property repair estimates, and other documentation help prove the amount.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages do not have an inherent monetary value. They include more subjective losses such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium (damage to relationships)
  • Scarring and disfigurement

Putting a dollar figure on these damages is more challenging. Factors considered include the severity of the injury, type of medical treatment received, length of recovery, and impact on quality of life.

What Are Punitive Damages?

While compensatory damages focus on the plaintiff’s losses, punitive damages aim to punish the defendant for their misconduct and deter similar behavior in the future. These damages go beyond merely compensating the victim and serve as a punishment for the defendant’s wrongdoings. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to compensatory damages in some instances, typically when the defendant’s behavior is found to be particularly egregious, malicious, or reckless.

The amount of punitive damages awarded is often determined based on factors such as the severity of the misconduct, the defendant’s financial status, and the need to send a strong message of deterrence to both the defendant and others in similar situations. Punitive damages are not awarded in every case, however. They are typically reserved for situations where compensatory damages alone are deemed insufficient to address the harm caused by the defendant’s actions. They are intended:

  • To punish the defendant for especially bad behavior
  • To deter the defendant and others from similar misconduct in the future

Courts rarely award punitive damages. Instead, they reserve them for situations where the defendant’s actions are particularly egregious or reckless. The plaintiff must prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the rights of others or intentionally and with malice.

Examples of conduct that might warrant punitive damages include:

  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Aggravated assault and battery
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Nursing home abuse and neglect
  • Knowingly selling defective or dangerous products
  • Fraud

Caps on Punitive Damages in Oklahoma

Oklahoma law places certain limits on punitive damages based on the circumstances of the injury as follows:

  • If the jury finds that the defendant acted with egregious recklessness, Oklahoma law caps punitive damages at the greater of $100,000 or the value of actual damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. An example of recklessness might be a driver who was drinking heavily before getting behind the wheel and subsequently slammed into a family car while running a red light.
  • If the jury finds that the defendant acted deliberately and with malice toward the victim, Oklahoma caps punitive damages at the greater of $500,000, twice the value of actual damages, or the financial benefit the defendant derived from their actions. For example, this cap would apply when a defendant intentionally assaulted and injured the victim.
  • If the jury finds that the defendant acted with malice and intentionally put the victim’s life at risk, the jury may award any reasonable amount they believe is fair, regardless of the aforementioned limitations. This is the highest bar to clear.

Critically, the jury needs to be told about this cap. The judge will reduce the amount if required after the verdict.

Factors Affecting Punitive Damages

Compensatory vs. Punitive Damages Explained in Oklahoma Image 2Oklahoma juries will consider factors like the following when determining how much to award in punitive damages:

  • Severity of Misconduct: The more egregious or malicious the defendant’s conduct, the higher the potential punitive damages. This is intended to punish particularly harmful behavior.
  • Intent of the Defendant: If the defendant acted with intent to cause harm or with a reckless disregard for the consequences of their actions, the jury is likelier to award more punitive damages.
  • Duration of Misconduct: Continuous or repeated misconduct over a prolonged period can result in higher punitive damages as it reflects a sustained disregard for the rights and safety of others.
  • Harm Caused to the Plaintiff: While punitive damages are not primarily compensatory, the extent and nature of the harm suffered by the plaintiff can influence the jury’s decision on the amount, particularly if the harm is severe or irreversible.

Getting Help from a Personal Injury Lawyer

If someone else’s negligence or misconduct has injured you or a loved one, you may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages. These cases are complex, and insurance companies will fight hard to avoid responsibility.

An experienced Oklahoma personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights and build a strong case for maximum compensation. At Abel Law Firm, our compassionate attorneys have recovered millions in damages for our clients. We offer free consultations so that you can get answers to your questions with no risk or obligation.

Get the legal help you deserve by contacting Abel Law Firm now at (405) 239-7046 to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer about your case. Our team is dedicated to advocating for your rights and helping you seek the justice you deserve. Whether you’ve suffered from medical malpractice, a workplace accident, or any other personal injury, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Don’t take on the legal process alone – let us fight for your rights and pursue the compensation you’re entitled to.

Voted Oklahoma's Best Personal Injury Law Firm
The Journal Record 2023 Reader Rankings - Top Winner - Abel Law Firm - Best Peronal Injury Law Firm
The Journal Record 2023 Reader Rankings - Top Winner - Abel Law Firm - Best Peronal Injury Law Firm

Oklahomans across the state have recognized the Abel Law Firm's unique heritage as a statewide institution. Founded by Ed Abel, and today led by his son, Luke Abel, our personal injury law firm has become synonymous with empathy, compassion, and the highest professional performance serving our neighbors. Our family has sought to leave a profound impact upon the State of Oklahoma. We appreciate that former Governor Mary Fallin recognized that dedication when she declared May 1st "Ed Abel Day."

To be named Oklahoma's Best Personal Injury Law Firm is humbling. We are grateful to have won this prestigious honor. We work every day to earn the trust of those we serve: Oklahoma families who are facing some of the most difficulty days of their lives due to the negligence of others. It is our intention and resolve to continue to be deserving of the faith Oklahomans have placed in our family's law firm. Thank you!

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