Punitive Damages in PA Personal Injury Claims
Punitive damages are not commonly awarded for personal injury claims in Pennsylvania. A “punitive” measure is defined as an action which serves to inflict punishment on a another party. Along these lines, punitive damages are often a result of a final judgement “punishing” the at fault organization in such a manner as to discourage this type of behavior from occurring again in the future. In order to be eligible for punitive damages, claimants must show that not only were their injuries the result of knowing, damaging, and recklessly indifferent actions taken by an individual or organization.
Today, our personal injury attorneys will discuss a famous case of punitive damages, what can be recovered in punitive damages, and the associated Pennsylvania punitive damage laws.
Levittown, PA Punitive Damages Attorneys Discuss Famous McDonald’s Hot Coffee Lawsuit
In what is quite possibly the most famous personal injury claims case in American history, Stella Lieback successfully sued the McDonald’s Corporation to the tune of $2.7 Million for third degree burns caused by hot coffee. As a brief aside, this case is infamous for the corporate hubris McDonald’s displayed by not settling the case for the $20,000 which Ms. Lieback initially sought. A large amount of the eventual compensation came from awarded punitive damages.
This case was eligible for punitive damages for several key reasons. It was shown that McDonald’s knew their coffee was dangerously hot. Despite this knowledge, it was corporate policy to serve their beverages at this hot temperature. This dangerous corporate policy directly led to a serious burn injury. Lastly, the punitive damages were meant to serve as a deterrent and to force McDonald’s into changing their corporate policy. This has led to the many “danger, hot coffee!” warnings which are plastered all over our coffee cups today.
Northeast Philadelphia Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers Discuss Punitive Damage Cases
In most personal injury claims, our Northeast Philadelphia lawyers must show that our clients injuries were the direct result of the negligent or reckless behavior of others. In order for a claim to be eligible for punitive damages as well, the burden of proof is even higher. In addition to the usual necessary proof in any personal injury claim, the following may also be considered:
- The nature of the reckless act. In the words of PA law, was the conduct in “reckless disregard of the safety of another”?
- The extent and nature of the injuries sustained as a result of the act. Even if the actions of the defendant were worthy of damages, a successful suit must stem from injuries and/or other damages incurred
- The wealth and financial standing of the defendant. This is important for punitive damages as courts will not award damages which the defendants cannot reasonably pay. On the other side of that coin, large organizations with deep pockets will not be phased by smaller settlements
- Will punitive damages deter the individual or organization from future wrongdoing?
While there are no overriding limits, Pennsylvania state law caps punitive damages at 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded when the defendant is a physician’s office or other medical facility. Additionally, 25 percent of all punitive damages in such cases will automatically be granted to the Pennsylvania Medical Care Available and Reduction of Error (MCARE) fund.
Contact our Bensalem Punitive Damages Attorneys Today
The punitive damages attorneys of Cohen & Riechelson have well over four decades of experience finding full and fair compensation through personal injury claims for clients in Bucks County towns like Northeast Philadelphia, Levittown, Bensalem, Penndel, Millbrook, Feasterville, and all over Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our firm believes that punitive damages are a necessary part of the personal injury claims process when defendants knowingly act in such a way that the public is put into dangerous situations. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident, construction accident, slip and fall accident, defective product accident, or any other type of accident, we may be able to help you and your family recover full and fair financial compensation.
Please call our Bensalem offices at (215) 337-4915 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation with a member of our qualified legal team regarding your accident, your injuries, and your potential for pursuing punitive damages through a personal injury claim.