Punitive damages are awards paid to a plaintiff exclusively for the purpose of punishing a defendant above and beyond paying for the financial costs and other harms suffered by the plaintiff. These damages are often awarded to prevent the specific defendant, or others who may be in a similar or analogous position, from repeating the type of behavior that led to the award of punitive damages.
Juries may be given the option to award punitive damages in certain personal injury, wrongful death, and medical malpractice cases when a plaintiff alleges that the defendant committed especially reprehensible behavior in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. For punitive damages to be awarded in these cases, a defendant must have not only been negligent but also behaved in a manner that warrants the additional punishment. These damages are rare but are not unheard of in certain types of cases.
Covering Up Knowledge of a Dangerous Product and Continuing to Market the Product Can Result in Punitive Damages
An example of the types of behaviors that justify punitive damages is illustrated by a recent jury verdict reached against the well-known health care products company Johnson & Johnson. A news article discussing the verdict explains that the jury found that Johnson & Johnson not only marketed a dangerous talc-based powder for women to use as a feminine care product, but also knew there was a high likelihood that the use of such powder on or near a woman’s genitals could result in ovarian cancer. The jury agreed that despite their knowledge of these risks, the company continued to market the product to women.