California Civil Code Section 3294, states:“In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”

“Oppression” is defined as “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.”

“Fraud” means “intentional misrepresentation or deceit.”

“Malice” is defined as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff” or that shows a “willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

What are some of the common scenarios where punitive damages are awarded?In order to be successful in obtaining punitive damages, you must have sufficient evidence to show that one of the above definitions apply under a higher burden of proof (clear and convincing evidence) than a normal civil claim preponderance of the evidence). The difference means that the evidence must be in the plaintiff's favor much more strongly than the 51% standard of a  typical civil claim.  However, there are many instances where punitive damages apply to either a personal injury or an employment claim.  Some common examples include the following:

  • Car accident claims where the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI/ DWI) at the time of the accident.
  • Intentional torts (assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse, etc.)
  • Some wrongful termination claims
  • Cases of fraud
Since these claims allow you to recover additional damages above and beyond just those meant to compensate you for your losses, it is important that you consult with an attorney on these claims as soon as possible following the incident giving rise to the claim to ensure that the evidence needed to prove your claim is properly secured, gathered, and presented at trial.



 
 
Every state has its own time limits in which you are able to take legal action to redress a wrong. These time limits are called statutes of limitations, and they vary according to the type of claim you wish to pursue. The law is inflexible,  and these time limits are generally inflexible, meaning if you do not file a lawsuit with the specified time you will be unable to recover for your injuries or damages.  

Below you’ll find California’s statutes of limitations for many common types of lawsuits. You should consult with an attorney to fully evaluate your potential claim, and determine which limitations period applies.

  • Medical malpractice actions: Three years from the date of injury or one year from the date of discovery of the injury, whichever occurs first. (There are exceptions for minors.)
  • Breach of an oral contract: Two years.
  • Breach of a written contract: Four years.
  • Personal injury claims (for example: dog bites, auto collisions, slip and falls, premises liability, motorcycle accident, wrongful death, etc.)  : Two years.
  • Employment Discrimination, Harassment or Retaliation:  Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (age, race, sex, disability, national origin, etc.) – Claims must be initially filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of the discrimination/harassment/retaliation.  Once the DFEH issues a Right to Sue Notice, the claimant has one year to file a case in court. However, under federal rules, specifically under Title VII, ADEA and ADA, claims in California must be initially filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within three hundred days.  Once the EEOC issues a Right to Sue Notice, the claimant has ninety days to file a case in federal court.
 
 
When your employer takes action against you because of  certain personal characteristics, you may have been the victim of Employment Discrimination.  California and Federal law specifically prohibits employers from treating employees unfairly because of their race, sex, color, national origin, age, religion, disability, marital status, medical condition, sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, if you were fired because you are female, pregnant, or have a disability, you likely have a valid claim of discrimination against your employer. 

If you have experienced job discrimination and you cannot resolve the situation with your employer, you should consult an attorney to assist you with filing a formal claim with The state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who investigate claims of job-related discrimination.  This is the first step in resolving your discrimination claim.  In fact, you cannot file a lawsuit without first filing a claim with one of these agencies.    Your initial statements to the DFEH or EEOC could limit what you are allowed to claim in any future lawsuit. An attorney will help ensure that your claim is filed properly providing you with the best opportunity to obtain a recovery for the discriminatory treatment.  Generally, a claim must be filed with the DFEH within one year of the discriminatory event. Alternatively, a claim must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the discriminatory event. 

Finally, if you’ve avoided reporting illegal discrimination or filing a claim with the DFEH or EEOC for fear of retaliation, you should be aware that state and federal law prohibits employers from firing or otherwise retaliating against any employee who complains about discrimination. If you are claiming retaliation, be sure that it is specifically referenced in the form that the agency prepares on your behalf.

Contact the law offices of Sean M. Patrick for an evaluation of your potential discrimination claim.