24. What are “punitive damages”?
Punitive damages are used to punish defendants for committing intentional torts and for negligent behavior considered “gross” or “willful and wanton.” The key consideration in the award of punitive damages is the defendant’s motive. Usually, a defendant’s motive must be malicious, fraudulent, or evil. Punitive damages are also awarded for dangerously negligent or reckless conduct that shows a conscious disregard for the interests of others.
• Discussion: How do you feel about the award of punitive damages? If punitive damages are awarded by the jury, is it fair that they go to the defendant? Why or why not?
• Practice Question: Happy Motor Co. manufactures cars. The company learns that the braking system in the vehicle is subject to fail in certain weather and road conditions. The company calculates the likelihood of losses from lawsuits from the failed braking system and realizes that it would be far cheaper to pay out awards in those lawsuits than to recall all of the vehicles and replace the braking system. When a plaintiff is severely injured because of the malfunction and sues Happy Motor Co., what type of damages do you think the jury will award and why?