Exactly what are punitive damages and when do they apply? Punitive damages are a civil remedy meant to punish a wrongdoer or tortfeasor, who due to their egregious conduct, has caused injury and damage to others. Punitive damages are also meant to send a message to the community in an effort to deter the defendant, as well as others, from doing the same thing.
While there are many acts and instances in which punitive damages may apply, such as fraud or malice (both of which require an element of intent against the injured party), one of the most common examples we see in a personal injury setting is when the defendant is impaired, either through drugs or alcohol, at the time of a motor vehicle accident. In those instances, there is usually no specific intent to harm a specific person. Instead, the risk is general to anyone who has the unfortunate experience to come in contact with the impaired person that results in an accident that causes injury. When a driver is impaired, for punitive damages purposes it is generally considered willful and wanton conduct.