A Guide to Obtaining Punitive Damages in Illinois Personal Injury Cases

November 23, 2021

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Brent Eames

If a person is injured as a result of someone else’s actions or inaction, said person can pursue a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party. If victorious, the Plaintiff will be entitled to recover economic and non-economic damages sustained as a result of the accident.  Present and future medical bills directly related to the accident, lost wages, and property damage expenses are examples of economic damages compensable in a typical personal injury case. The non-economic damages are awarded to reimburse the injured party for intangible losses associated with the accident.  Pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of consortium are just a few examples of losses that the injured individual can incur as a result of the accident. In some extreme cases, a plaintiff can also recover additional damages, known as punitive damages. Keep reading to learn what top Personal Injury Attorney in Chicago, Brent Eames, says about how you can obtain punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit.

What Are Punitive Damages and How Do I Recover Them?

Punitive or Exemplary Damages are damages awarded in addition to economic and non-economic compensatory damages.  In personal injury cases, punitive damages are awarded to punish the conduct of the defendant that is intentional, willful or wanton,  rather than to compensate the injured party.  An injured plaintiff can seek punitive damages in cases of bodily injury, property damage, or product liability. 735 ILCS 5/2-604.1 However, punitive damages cannot be recovered in cases based on the malpractice theory of liability. 735 ILCS 5/2-1115. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, and if the award is made, the amount of the damages can be significant but shall not exceed 3 times the amount of economic damages on which the personal injury claim was based. 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05 (a) In addition, a plaintiff cannot claim only punitive damages as means of recovery, but rather punitive damages can only be awarded in the case where the plaintiff received an award of actual damages.

In Illinois, to recover punitive damages, the injured party needs to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct was willful or wanton. 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.05 (b).  The defendant is said to act willfully if he or she consciously and intentionally aims to achieve a specific result.  The conduct is wanton if the defendant acts with an outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm to others that arises from the defendant’s actions. One such example of willful and wanton conduct would be shooting a gun in a crowd of people. Although the shooter is not aiming to injure or kill any particular person, shooting in the crowd the shooter acts with outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of injuring another individual.  Operating a vehicle while severely intoxicated or driving a car at a high speed in a school zone are other examples of conduct that the court may determine to be willful and wanton. An employer can also be guilty of willful and wanton conduct for the acts of its employees under the doctrine of respondent superior. For example, in one Illinois case, the employer of a forklift driver who struck the plaintiff causing severe injuries to the plaintiff’s ankle and foot was charged with $3,000,000 in punitive damages because the employer knowingly allowed its forklift operators to use forklift equipment without being properly trained and certified. Neuhengen v. Global Experience Specialists, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 160322. 

Unlike cases based on negligence, both willful and wanton actions imply some degree of fault on behalf of the defendant.  Thus, if the jury will find that it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the defendant was acting willfully or wantonly, then punitive damages can be awarded. In making the determination the jury can consider whether the harm caused by the defendant was physical or purely economic; whether the conduct of the defendant demonstrated indifference to or reckless disregard for health and safety of others; whether the injured party was financially vulnerable; whether defendant’s conduct was repeated rather than just an isolated incident; and whether the harm was a result of  intentional malice or deceit rather than a mere accident.

The Eames Law Group  is an experienced law firm that guides people who have suffered serious personal injuries. They help residents of Illinois gain their lives back after accidents, by managing medical bills and financial setbacks. Brent Eames has been recognized as one of the best personal injury lawyers in Chicago who will help people obtain the appropriate compensation and medical assistance after suffering an injury. For more information, contact us to meet with the Eames Law Group and learn about the legal services they offer.

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