One of the main things on any plaintiff’s mind in a personal injury lawsuit is damages. The financial compensation from damages is often the way that plaintiffs are able to pay off large medical bills, afford long-term care, and regain some sense of normalcy. Most damages in a personal injury lawsuit will be dependent on the condition of the plaintiff. However, a special type of damages, called punitive damages, is awarded when the court finds that a defendant has acted especially badly.
Some states will put a “cap,” or maximum limit, on punitive damages. However, in Maryland, there is no cap on what you can ask for in punitive damages. However, if you ask for punitive damages in an amount the court or jury finds unreasonable, you may not be awarded them in your lawsuit.
To get a free review of your case, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras’s Maryland personal injury lawyers at the number (410) 694-7291.
Maryland Punitive Damages Explained
The two primary kinds of damages in personal injury lawsuits are economic and non-economic damages. Generally, things like medical bills or costs or continued treatment and care. Non-economic damages will be for more abstract things like physical pain. Punitive damages, however, stem from the defendant’s conduct. When you ask for punitive damages in a lawsuit, you allege that the defendant’s conduct was so egregious that you should be awarded damages above and beyond merely what is needed to recover from your injuries.
Recovering Punitive Damages in a Maryland Personal Injury Lawsuit
Maryland imposes certain criteria on plaintiffs that they must prove if they are seeking punitive damages. If you do not prove these things in court, you cannot recover punitive damages from the defendant. When you go over your case with our Maryland personal injury lawyers, we can determine whether the defendant acted in a way that warrants asking for punitive damages when you sue them in court.
Remember that it is more difficult to prove that you are entitled to punitive damages than economic or non-economic damages. This is because punitive damages go beyond what the plaintiff actually needs to recover from their injuries, so you need to prove more than merely that the defendant caused your injuries.
To get awarded punitive damages in Maryland, you must prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice.” In Maryland, “actual malice” is defined as “ill will or improper motivation” under Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art., § 5-301(b). This means that the defendant did something beyond mere negligence. Maryland courts have held that actual malice requires an “evil motive,” “ill will,” or an “intent to injure.” Essentially, this means that you must prove that the defendant intentionally set out to injure you or otherwise had nefarious intentions when they did the act that caused your injury. For example, suppose the defendant injured you while driving through a crowded shopping center at 100 miles an hour. In that instance, you likely would be able to prove that the defendant acted with an “evil motive” or “ill will” since flooring it through a space with lots of pedestrian traffic is very likely to get someone hurt or killed.
In practice, outside of very clear examples like the one above, actual malice is very hard to prove. This is because the majority of injuries and accidents are the result of negligence, not intentional acts of the defendant.
No Limits on Punitive Damages in Maryland
Unlike some states, Maryland does not impose a limit on the amount you can be awarded in punitive damages. This means that you can ask for very high amounts of punitive damages. However, it may not necessarily be advisable to do so all of the time. Asking for an astronomical damages amount has the potential to make the judge or jury skeptical of your claims, especially if opposing counsel can call evidence into question. This is especially important because the judge and jury are the ones that decide whether you will receive punitive damages or not. Instead, you should ask for an appropriate amount of punitive damages for your unique situation. If the punitive damages your injuries warrant are high, then you should absolutely ask for a large amount. However, you need to show with evidence that you should be awarded punitive damages.
Are Government Entities Immune from Punitive Damages in Maryland?
Some entities are shielded from punitive damages under Maryland Law. You will not be able to recover punitive damages from these parties in court even if you can prove the criteria needed to recover them. Notably, you cannot pursue a claim for punitive damages against the government. Per Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. Art., § 5-303(c)(1). Additionally, government employees can be “indemnified,” or shielded, from punitive damages.
Settlements and Punitive Damages in Maryland
You cannot recover punitive damages in a settlement. Settling a lawsuit is when both parties agree to terms and resolve the issue without going to trial. In many cases, a settlement is a viable alternative to a lawsuit because the defendant cooperates or otherwise meets the needs of the plaintiff. Unfortunately, for plaintiffs seeking punitive damages, this is not an option. A desperate defendant may try and offer an enticing settlement agreement if they know you are seeking punitive damages and have the evidence to prove it. You should be aware of this possibility when considering a settlement offer and speak with our lawyers about what the right decision is for your situation.
Speak to Our Maryland Personal Injury Lawyers Today
Rice, Murtha & Psoras’s Baltimore personal injury lawyers are ready to give you a free case analysis when you call (410) 694-7291.p