September 12, 2019

A common question is “what are punitive damages” or alternatively “what do punitive damages mean”. Punitive damages are awarded to punish a defendant for their bad conduct. Such damages are also known as exemplary damages in which the goal is to make an example of the defendant and deter similar conduct in the future.  The purpose behind punitive damages or exemplary damages is two-fold: (1) to punish the defendant for their wrongful conduct, and (2) set a public example in order to deter such conduct.

Punitive / exemplary damages are appropriate when compensatory damages would be inadequate to remedy the situation. Specifically the defendant must have acted with intent, malice, oppression or otherwise truly egregious behavior that not punishing or deterring such behavior would be inadequate. Punitive / exemplary damages are most often awarded when there is a finding of fraud, fiduciary claims or intentional tort actions.  Our previous articles discussing compensatory damages are linked below:

Below is our Common Causes of Action Chart discussing the most common: Intentional torts, Negligence Actions and Contract Claims:

Common Causes of Action
Intentional Torts Assault: The imminent fear for one’s well-being

Battery: Unauthorized touching of a person

Misrepresentation / Fraud: Deceit; deliberately misleading another

Conversion: Unauthorized transfer of money or property

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Doing mental or psychological harm by act or by omission

Defamation, Libel, and Slander: Damage to a party’s reputation, image or standing in the community

Wrongful Imprisonment (or False Imprisonment): Restriction of an individual’s freedom of movement, physically or mentally

Malicious Prosecution and Abuse of Process: Forcing a party to defend him or herself against baseless prosecution

Trespass and Nuisance (these are environmental torts): Unwarranted and unauthorized entry onto property, or devaluing the enjoyment of property due to the intrusive acts of another

Negligent Torts Negligence: Establishment of a duty, followed by a breach of that duty, and an establishment of damages. (For compensation to be awarded, it must be established that the negligence was the proximate cause of the damages.)

Negligence per se: Negligence while violating the law

Wrongful Death: Death caused by another’s negligence

Contracts Breach of Contract: Failure to fulfill certain written or oral commitments

Bad Faith / Fraud: Entering into an agreement with no intention of fulfilling obligations

Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Failing to act in the best financial interest of a party when there exists an obligation to do so

Below is our California Damages Chart outlining the differences between Special/Economic Compensatory Damages, General/Noneconomic Compensatory Damages, and Punitive/Exemplary Damages:

Type of Damages
Special Compensatory Damages/ Economic Damages


Special damages are unique to the individual plaintiff and vary significantly from one plaintiff to the next. An award for special damages compensate a plaintiff for costs and expenses incurred as a result of the incident or accident that caused their injuries.


Common types of special damages:

·       loss of earnings

·       property damage

·       loss of future earnings

·       past medical expenses

·       cost for future medical care

·       cost of household expenses

·       reimbursement for cancelled trips or altered plans

General Compensatory Damages/Noneconomic Damages General damages compensate a plaintiff for non-monetary damages incurred in a personal injury claim. Common types of general damages:

·       physical pain

·       loss of enjoyment of life

·       anxiety/humiliation

·       emotional distress

·       mental anguish,

·       pain and suffering,

·       loss of enjoyment

·       loss of consortium or companionship

Punitive Damages Punitive damages are only awarded to an injured plaintiff when the defendant’s conduct was despicable or reprehensible.  Punitive damages are designed to punish a wrongdoer for the wrongful conduct and discourage similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are awarded when the defendant engaged in malicious, oppressive or fraudulent conduct.

·       Malice: means that the defendant acted with intent to cause injury or with willful and knowing disregard of the rights and safety of another.

·       Oppression: means the defendant’s conduct was despicable and the plaintiff was subject to cruel and unjust hardship in knowing disregard of their rights

·       Fraud: means the defendant intentionally misrepresented or concealed a material fact and did so intending to harm the plaintiff


If you have any questions about your punitive damages or how punitive damages are calculated we invite you to call us today at 619-432-5145 for a free consultation with one of our experienced damages attorney punitive damages lawyers.

Diana Legal