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Does North Carolina award punitive damages in PI cases?

If you sustain extensive and costly injuries in an accident in North Carolina, you may seek to do more than collect compensatory damages for your harms. You may wish to punish the defendant. That is where punitive damages come in.

Per the North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 1D, the purpose of punitive damages in personal injury cases is to punish the defendant for egregiously wrongful behavior and to deter similar future actions. The term “egregiously” is key here. The legal text provides some clarification by outlining the standards for the recovery of punitive damages.

Grounds for the recovery of punitive damages

To recover punitive damages for the harms you sustain in an accident, you must first prove that the defendant caused compensatory damages as well. You may not seek punitive damages simply because the defendant’s actions could have resulted in more serious harm. If you can prove the existence of compensatory damages, you must then show, through clear and convincing evidence, that an aggravating factor was present at the time of the accident. Said aggravating factor must fall into one of three categories:

  • Fraud
  • Malice
  • Willful or wanton misconduct

If you choose to pursue punitive damages, you must elect, prior to the jury awarding a judgment, to forfeit your right to other, extra-compensatory remedies.

Caps on punitive damages

If your case qualifies for punitive damages, know that state law does place a limit on how much you may recover. Though the jury calculates these damages separately from other types of compensation, the amount of recovery may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. However, in cases involving drunk drivers, punitive damage caps do not apply.

If you believe the defendant in your case is deserving of legal ramifications, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer regarding your options for recovery. An attorney can help you determine if your case qualifies for punitive damages and, if so, what you can do to recover them.