Punitive Damages Law and Legal Definition

Punitive damages are damages awarded in a lawsuit as a punishment and example to deter others from malicious, evil or particularly fraudulent acts. Plaintiff has the burden of proving that punitive damages should be awarded, and the amount, by a preponderance of the evidence. In order to succeed, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's conduct was malicious, or in reckless disregard of plaintiff's rights.

The relationship between the amount of punitive and compensatory damages awarded in any given case has been prominent in the policy debate, and some federal and state judiciaries and legislatures use the amount of compensatory damages awarded as one factor in judging the reasonableness of the punitive award. Because punitive damages are awarded in a fraction of all verdicts, they are less frequent, and thus less predictable, than compensatory awards.