Exemplary Damages Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Exemplary Damages, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Exemplary Damages?

n. Referred to as punitive damages, these damages are requested and/or awarded in a lawsuit when the defendant’s actions were malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless. For example: publishing that someone had committed murder when the publisher knew that the facts were not accurate; an ex-husband destroys his former wife’s automobile and threatens further property damage; a stockbroker buys and sells a widow’s stocks to generate commissions that results with the widow losing her capital money. Exemplary damages are awarded as punishment and to set an example for the public, rewarding the plaintiff for the horrible nature of what he/she endured. Exemplary damages are seldom awarded, but often requested. There have been major awards in remarkable (egregious or outstanding) cases, such as fraud schemes, sexual harassment, or other intentional vicious actions, even if the actual damages that could be proven were not that extensive.