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Punitive Damages in Connecticut

What are they and when do they apply?

An injured party who obtains an award of may, under certain circumstances, be entitled to a further award of punitive damages. In Connecticut, in order to obtain an award of punitive, or exemplary, damages the evidence must reveal a reckless indifference to the rights of others or an intentional and wanton violation of those rights. Our state statutes provide for a number of circumstances where punitive damages can be awarded.

As is set forth in the Connecticut Civil Jury Instructions, punitive damages are damages awarded not to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries or losses but to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar conduct in the future.may be awarded by the jury if they unanimously find that the conduct of the defendant was outrageous.

An award of punitive damages is not a common occurrence. It is estimated that punitive damage awards are made in less than four percent of all jury verdicts. However, when a punitive award is made, it can sometimes generate media attention making it seem more commonplace.

The in BMV of North America v. Gore (1996) set forth three guidelines by which punitive damage awards must be measured. Those guidelines require a Court to look at:

  1. The degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct;
  2. The ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages awarded; and
  3. Comparing the punitive damages award and whether criminal or civil fines could be levied against the defendant due to the misconduct.

These guidelines apply to all 50 states but are generally inapplicable to states that limit awards for punitive damage. Connecticut is one of the more than twenty states in the country that limits the amount that can be awarded in punitive damages. Most states that have limits on punitive damages require that they be proven by clear and convincing evidence.  Connecticut’s requirement, is for proof by a preponderance of the evidence, sometimes described as proof by 50.01%, which is a lesser civil burden of proof than that of clear and convincing evidence.

Connecticut’s limits in punitive damage awards were set forth by our Supreme Court in 1992 in the case of Berry v. Louiseau. In Berry, the limited the award of punitive damages to the actual cost of litigation, including attorney’s fees.

It is important to note in Connecticut both the difficulty involved in obtaining punitive damage awards and the limits involved once you obtain such an award.

Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyerat Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state.  A graduate of Fordham Law School, he has been named a Connecticut Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents."  He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.

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