Rules for Punitive Damages in Ohio Negligence Cases

At the conclusion of a lawsuit, after awarding compensatory damages, a judge or jury has the option of awarding punitive damages in Ohio. Punitive damages are different from other types of damages because a jury awards them to punish the defendant for intentional acts against the plaintiff, rather than to compensate the plaintiff for injury. 

How do I prove that I deserve punitive damages?

Each Ohio personal injury case generally consists of two stages. During the first stage, you (or your lawyer) will present evidence that proves your right to compensatory damages. The law does not allow you or your lawyer to submit evidence regarding your right to punitive damages during this stage.

If the jury determines that a plaintiff is entitled to recover compensatory damages, the trial will move on to stage two. During this second stage, you or your lawyer can present evidence that proves that you deserve punitive damages.

Even though a jury awards punitive damages to punish a defendant, the burden of proof is on you (the plaintiff) to prove that you deserve a punitive damages award. You can only recover punitive damages if you can show, by clear and convincing evidence, that both of the following apply:

  1. The defendant’s actions showed “malice or aggravated or egregious fraud” or the defendant knowingly “authorized, participated in, or ratified actions” that were malicious or egregious.
  2. “The trier of fact” has determined that the plaintiff deserves punitive damages.

In other words, once the trier of fact (typically the jury) has determined that the plaintiff deserves compensatory damages, it must then find that the defendant’s actions were intentional, malicious, and/or egregious.

Note: The defendant must have intended to harm the plaintiff. As a result, incidents of gross negligence by the defendant typically do not qualify a plaintiff to receive punitive damages. This follows in the spirit of the purpose of punitive damages, because how can you punish a defendant for something that he did not mean to do?

Once the jury has heard both sides, it will return a general verdict that specifies the type and amount of damages recoverable by the plaintiff from each defendant. For example, if the jury awards $10,000 to the plaintiff for compensatory damages and $20,000 for punitive damages, the verdict form should specify this, and not just list a total of $30,000.

Is there a cap on punitive damages in Ohio?

While there is no cap on economic damages in Ohio, the state does place a limit on the amount of punitive damages a jury can award. Unless there is a limited exception (such as if the tort resulted in catastrophic injury), the state places following limits on punitive damages:

  • The award for punitive damages cannot be more than two times the amount of compensatory damages. For example, if the jury awards the plaintiff $20,000 in compensatory damages, the punitive damages award cannot be more than $40,000, awarding the plaintiff $60,000 in total.
  • Ohio state law caps punitive damages at $350,000. So, even if two times the amount of the plaintiff’s compensatory damages award is more than $350,000, the plaintiff will still only receive the maximum of $350,000 in punitive damages.

If the defendant is one individual or a small company, the law limits the possible punitive damages to 10 percent of the individual’s net worth or the $350,000 cap (whichever is less).

Contact an Ohio car accident attorney for help.

As seen above, a jury will not award punitive damages in every case. For help getting the compensation you need and deserve, call an Ohio car accident attorney today.

Contact Bressman Law at 877-538-1116 to schedule a free consultation.