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Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages assessed in order to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and/or to reform or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit. Although the purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the plaintiff, the plaintiff will receive all or some of the punitive damages in award.

Punitive damages are often awarded if compensatory damages are deemed an inadequate remedy. Because they are usually paid in excess of the plaintiff’s provable injuries, punitive damages are awarded only in special cases, usually under tort law, if the defendant’s conduct was egregiously insidious. According to Missouri Revised Statute § 510.261, punitive damages shall not be awarded unless “the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others. In Illinois, according to 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05, a plaintiff “must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct was with evil motive or with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.

Although punitive damages are relatively rare, examples are:

  • Gross Negligence – Gross negligence can occur, for example, when a drunk driver causes a severe accident with fatalities.
  • Willful Intent – Willful intent is the act of deliberately causing harm to another person, for example, in an assault.
  • Criminal Behavior – Criminal acts can include violating road laws and deliberately attacking or murdering an individual.

There currently is no cap on punitive damages in Missouri. There is also no cap in place in Illinois, however, punitive damages are prohibited in medical malpractice cases.

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