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Punitive Damages and Compensatory Damages under West Virginia Law

Compensatory damages in personal injury claims

Under West Virginia law, compensatory damages are what compensate a plaintiff for the harms and losses he or she suffered because of another’s tortious conduct (typically, negligence). Compensatory damages are designed to remedy specific losses, called specific damages, and general losses, which are called general damages.  In a personal injury claim, specific compensatory damages, also called liquidated damages, include monetary reimbursement for medical expenses and nursing care, for example; past, present and future lost wages; and all other out-of-pocket expenses.  General damages provide a plaintiff money to compensate him or her for the losses caused by the tortfeasor that are difficult to measure: examples include pain, suffering, and emotional distress.

Punitive Damages under West Virginia Law

Unlike compensatory damages where only a showing of negligence is required, punitive damages are only available in a limited number of circumstances.  Under West Virginia law, a plaintiff may only recover punitive damages if he or she can show that the defendant acted with gross fraud, malice, oppression, or with wanton, willful, or reckless conduct, or with criminal indifference to civil obligations affecting the rights of the plaintiff.  However, if a plaintiff can meet this burden of proof he or she can recover both compensatory and punitive damages.

Purpose of Punitive Damages under West Virginia Law

At first glance, it may appear that a plaintiff that seeks punitive damages is only being greedy.  However, the availability of punitive damages in West Virginia serves a number of important purposes including protecting innocent people from serious bodily injury or wrongful death.  The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has also recognized a number of important objectives served by punitive damages, including the following:  (1)  deterring others from similar wrongful conduct; (2) punishing the defendant; (3) providing additional compensation for the defendant’s egregious conduct that the plaintiff has suffered; and (4)  encouraging fair settlements.

Why Hire a West Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer

As discussed above, it is difficult to prove a claim for punitive damages in West Virginia, but an experienced personal injury lawyer can greatly improve your odds if you have been injured by another’s reckless conduct.  Additionally, a skilled lawyer can help you recover both compensatory damages and punitive damages if the facts of your personal injury claim justify both.  If you have been injured or wronged by another, we invite you all West Law Firm for a free consultation.  Our toll free number is 1-877-943-9378 (WEST).

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