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Definition of Exemplary Damages

Exemplary damages or punitive damages are compensation given in a personal injury case. They are damages which are greater than the loss suffered by the plaintiff and are used to punish the victim, not provide monetary compensation. The goal of exemplary damages is to warn other individuals and deter them from similar future actions.

Generally, the courts will evaluate the nature of the wrong, the character of the conduct involved, the degree of culpability of the defendant, the situation and the sensibilities of each party, the net worth of the defendant and the extent to which the conduct offends the public sense of justice and propriety before determining exemplary damages.

Exemplary damages are not allowed in all cases, but if they are allowed the plaintiff must generally prove the injury was caused by malice, wicked conduct or aggravated by violence. For example, if the injury claim was for fraud the plaintiff would have to prove malicious defamation, not simply negligence. If a claimant files a car accident claim they may be awarded exemplary damages if they are injured by a driver who intentionally runs them down with malice versus the driver who unintentionally ran a stop sign and caused injury.

Many types of cases and states have limits to exemplary damages and will only allow exemplary damages to be a certain amount above compensatory damages.

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