Definition of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are given as compensation in a civil case to discourage the future actions of the defendant. Punitive damages are in addition to compensatory damages such as medical expense compensation or wage loss compensation which is used to make the plaintiff "whole."
Punitive damages are not allowed for all personal injury claims but are generally awarded when the defendant's actions are found to be grossly negligent. Although the court may have some discretion to limit punitive damages, this ability is generally exercised with great caution. As a general rule, an award of punitive damages will not be set aside or changed unless the court determines the decision was based on prejudice or passion and the verdict is determined to be excessive.