Considerations When Asserting a Claim Seeking Punitive Damages

After an individual has been injured in an accident, they often suffer damages, ranging from physical injuries to property damage. Under New Mexico law, the victims in these cases deserve to be compensated if their injuries stem from the negligence of another. A judge or jury will generally decide the amount of damages to which the victim is entitled.

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There are two main types of damages, compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are designed to make the “victim whole again.” Under compensatory damages, an analysis is done to determine the economic losses and non-economic losses that the victim suffered. An economic loss includes things such as lost earnings, lost wages, and past and future medical expenses. Non-economic losses include the emotional aftermath that a person has to endure due to the accident. This encompasses pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of the enjoyment of life.

A third type of damages is punitive damages. New Mexico is very reluctant to award punitive damages, and the standard that gives rise to this sort of damages is difficult to meet. Unlike the damages discussed previously, punitive damages are unique in that they are solely designed to punish and deter the wrongdoer.

Under New Mexico law, a person may only be awarded punitive damages if the defendant acted intentionally or particularly recklessly. Historically, this high standard has been difficult to achieve. These damages are usually only awarded in cases that include battery, defamation, or fraud.

In some cases, individuals are awarded a significant sum of money in punitive damages. The issue in these cases is that there are almost always appeals involved because defendants are loathe to pay out these high sums. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that depending on the type of claim, there are certain caps on the amount a person can receive.

Plaintiffs Sanctioned for Asserting Claim for Punitive Damages

The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota recently released an opinion in Smizer v. Drey, in which the Supreme Court sanctioned a plaintiff for asserting a claim for punitive damages and continuing to pursue the claim without a good-faith basis for doing so.

According to the opinion, two parties were involved in a car accident that resulted in physical injuries to one of the passengers in a car. The plaintiffs brought a lawsuit against the other driver, alleging negligence and asking the court to award them compensatory as well as punitive damages. The lower court partially granted the plaintiffs motion for summary judgment but also granted the defendant a motion for sanctions against the plaintiffs.

According to the law in South Dakota, a plaintiff must conduct a reasonable investigation to support a claim for punitive damages. The court did not believe that the plaintiffs engaged in this investigation and that they had enough evidence to pursue this sort of claim. The court went on to discuss the fact that the plaintiffs did not have enough basis in law or fact to bring this sort of claim, and as a result it sanctioned the plaintiffs for making this allegation. The plaintiffs were ordered to pay the attorney’s fees for the defendant’s appellate attorney, who had been hired to defend against the punitive damages claim.

Have You Been Injured Because of the Reckless Behavior of Another in New Mexico?

The idea of punitive damages is often distorted in the media, but in reality it entails a very high burden of proof. This is not to say that individuals who have a lawful claim for punitive damages should not seek them, but it is important that they have the experience of an attorney to assist them in this sort of claim. An attorney at the Fine Law Firm can help a client determine which types of claims to bring and help ensure that they are not punished for bringing a particular claim. An attorney at the Fine Law Firm is an indispensable tool in getting the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact an attorney at the Fine Law Firm today at 800-640-6590 to schedule a free initial consultation.

More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Jury Instructions in New Mexico Civil Cases, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 7, 2016.

Tenth Circuit Upholds Validity of Liability Waiver After Rafting Accident, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, January 20, 2016.