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.



 


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