In our last post, we began speaking about the potential availability of punitive damages in Colorado car accident cases. As we noted, punitive damages are unlike compensatory damages in that their goal is not to compensate the victim but to punish the defendant. We also mentioned that punitive damages are only available in certain circumstances.
Under Colorado law, punitive damages are only available in civil actions when the defendant acted with fraud, malice or “willful or wanton conduct.” This means the defendant acted purposefully, knowing that his or her actions were dangerous, and that they knowingly put others—particularly the plaintiff—at risk of harm. A plaintiff may not request punitive damages right away in their case, but only after the initial steps of the discovery process have been fulfilled and the plaintiff has shown that an award of punitive damages may be possible in the case.
Ordinarily, punitive damages are limited to what is reasonable and may not amount to more than the actual damages awarded to the plaintiff. Depending on the circumstances, though, punitive damages may be either reduced, increased, or disallowed altogether even though the plaintiff is able to make a case that he or she may be entitled to them.
Factors that are taken into consideration when determining a possible reduction or rejection of a punitive damages award include the extent to which compensatory damages and other remedies have already had a deterrent effect and whether the other purposes of punitive damages have already been achieved through actions taken by the court. Another factor courts consider, which does not often come up in auto accident cases, is whether or not the defendant’s reckless behavior has already come to an end or is still ongoing.
In our next post, we’ll look at the factors that come into consideration with respect to increasing a punitive damages award and wrap up our discussion by commenting on the importance of working with an experienced attorney.