What are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages awarded in addition to compensatory damages in certain circumstances. A jury can always award compensatory damages for things like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, but punitive damages are different. Punitive damages aim to punish the wrongdoer and deter other wrongdoers from participating in similar egregious behavior. Both Missouri and Kansas allow punitive damages, but the process to ask for them is different than the process to ask for compensatory damages.
Punitive Damages in Missouri
In 2020, Missouri enacted a new statute on the issue of punitive damages, Missouri Statute 510.261. Under that statute, plaintiffs cannot demand punitive damages in their initial petition. More importantly, they have to affirmatively establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant intentionally harmed them without just cause, and “with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.” This means the plaintiff must show the court that the defendant participated in some behavior above and beyond that of ordinary negligence.
In Missouri an injured party may be awarded up to 5 times the compensatory damages, or $500,000.00.
Punitive Damages in Kansas
Punitive damages are also available in Kansas, and similar to Missouri an injured party must seek leave from the court to be awarded punitive damages. Kansas Statute 60-3703 allows a plaintiff to file an amended petition seeking punitive damages, but the plaintiff must show there is a “probability” he will succeed on the claim at trial. The plaintiff must produce clear and convincing evidence to the jury demonstrating that the defendant and/or its employees acted with willful conduct, wanton conduct, fraud, or malice towards the plaintiff. This means that if a defendant purposely injured someone or acted maliciously, then punitive damages are on the table.
“Wanton” behavior is a more likely act of a defendant, but a more rigorous test. In Kansas, the courts use a two-step test to establish whether “wanton” behavior. “To be wanton, the acts alleged must show more than a lack of due care. The act must indicate a realization of the imminence of danger, and a reckless disregard, complete indifference or an unconcern for the probable consequences of the wrongful act.” Rios v. Bigler, 847 F. Supp. 1538, 1548 (D. Kan. 1994), aff’d, 67 F.3d 1543 (10th Cir. 1995). This means if a defendant knew its action or inaction would likely injury someone, and failed to correct the behavior, then punitive damages may be appropriate.
In Kansas, an injured party may be awarded up to $5,000,000.00 or 50% of the net worth of the defendant.
PREUSS | FOSTER LAW AND SUCCESS ON PUNITIVE DAMAGES
Preuss | Foster has successfully briefed and argued for punitive damages for its clients in both Missouri and Kansas. Although the standard is high for an injured party to make a claim for punitive damages, Preuss | Foster is an experienced law firm that has succeeded in making these claims in both Missouri and Kansas for its clients, which helps achieve the best possible outcome for its clients.
If you have questions about punitive damages, call our Kansas City Injury Attorneys at Preuss | Foster Law today for your free consultation at (816) 307-2788