Punitive Damages Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Punitive Damages?

(n) Punitive damages are the punishment given on law suits as a part of decree with an intention to retaliate the wrong or fraud done by the culprit preferably to compensate the looser.

History and Meaning of Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are awarded in civil cases where it is deemed necessary to punish the defendant for their behavior and deter future wrongdoing by them or others. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff, but rather to punish the defendant and send a message to others that such behavior will not be tolerated.

The concept of punitive damages has existed for centuries. In ancient Roman law, plaintiffs were entitled to seek double the amount of damages suffered as a form of punishment against the defendant. The modern American legal system has also embraced the concept of punitive damages, although they are generally only awarded in cases involving intentional or reckless conduct, such as fraud or intentional harm.

Examples of Punitive Damages

  1. A company knowingly selling a dangerous product may be ordered to pay punitive damages to deter them from doing it again in the future.
  2. In a case where an individual caused a car accident while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may be ordered to pay punitive damages as a way of punishing them for their reckless behavior.
  3. A landlord who violates housing laws and deliberately neglects their obligations may be ordered to pay punitive damages to deter them from future wrongdoing.

Legal Terms Similar to Punitive Damages

  1. Compensatory Damages - Damages awarded to the plaintiff to compensate them for their losses.
  2. Nominal Damages - A small amount of money awarded to the plaintiff when they have not suffered any significant financial loss.
  3. Liquidated Damages - A specific amount of damages agreed upon in a contract to be paid in the event of a breach of contract.