Monetary awards in personal injury cases are generally intended to compensate a victim of negligence for actual past and future compensatory losses or “special damages”—whether medical bills, lost income, future impairment of ability to earn money—as well as pain and suffering. However, where a defendant has acted with at least recklessness or gross negligence in Kentucky, an award of punitive damages by a jury is warranted. Additionally, where intentional conduct is involved—such as an intentional assault and battery—punitive damages against the one who caused the harm are similarly warranted.
Punitive damages can be used in a wide array of circumstances, whether it is to punish an individual who drives drunk or texts while driving and injures someone else, whether it is to punish and deter a bouncer and bar for an intentional assault of a patron by the bouncer, or whether it is to punish a corporate or wealthy defendant whose conduct the jury wants to deter, such as the owner of a service station who permits an attendant to possess and use a firearm but fails to train the employee resulting in injury, just to name a few situations. A punitive damages award can also be used to deter a particular type of conduct generally, among similarly situated defendants, such as manufacturers of similar products or hospitals that employ similar policies that are detrimental to patients.
In a car accident case which went to the Court of Appeals this year, a couple that had undergone gastric bypass surgery several years earlier were driving home when another driver turned his Nissan Altima into the wrong lane and drove towards them. An SUV driving in front of them managed to swerve away, but they crashed into the Altima. The Altima driver, who was drunk, died on the scene.