What Are Punitive Damages in Arizona?

June 22, 2020

If you or a loved one sustains an injury caused by the negligent actions of another person, you may be able to recover significant compensation for your losses through a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. In general, personal injury victims are often able to recover various types of economic and non-economic damages, including the recovery of their medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering damages, and more. In some cases, victims may also be able to recover punitive damages from a negligent party. These damages are meant to compensate the victim and to serve as punishment against the negligent party for their actions. At Torgenson Law, our Arizona personal injury attorneys want to discuss these damages.

Punitive damages in Arizona personal injury cases

Punitive damages in personal injury cases

Arizona laws make it difficult to sue for and recover personal damages in most personal injury cases. In general, courts in Arizona have ruled that punitive damages will be allowed only under certain circumstances. Arizona courts only allow punitive damages to be awarded if a person was found to be acting with an “evil mind.” This may sound ominous and tough to prove, but generally means one of two things:

  • That the negligent party had ill will towards the victim and intentionally caused them harm.
  • The negligent party knew that what they were doing was unsafe and likely to cause harm to somebody, but did it anyway.

Punitive damages in car accidents

Keeping in mind that punitive damage awards are rare, there will be few cases in which they are awarded for car accidents. Punitive damages in truck accidents or car accidents could be awarded if a driver intentionally hits another person with their vehicle or if a driver does something incredibly dangerous on the roadway that they know will cause harm to others around them. This could include a driver who was “provoked” by road rage and intentionally slams their vehicle into another, causing harm to the occupants.

Punitive damages in medical malpractice

In general, medical professionals do everything they can to keep a patient from becoming harmed. However, there are times when a medical professional may knowingly cause harm to a patient. An example of when punitive damages may be appropriate will be when a nurse is annoyed with a talkative patient, knowingly gives them a sedative they have not been prescribed to keep them quiet, and the patient subsequently has an adverse reaction to the medication that causes them significant harm.

Punitive damages in wrongful death

There are various ways that punitive damages could be appropriate in a wrongful death case. However, similar to personal injury punitive damages, the courts will still need to find that a person acted with an “evil mind” before they allow them to be awarded. An example of when punitive damages may be appropriate for an Arizona wrongful death claim could be an employer knowing that employees were working around defective equipment, failing to take steps to replace or repair the equipment, and an employee dying due to this failure to take appropriate steps.

Punitive damages in insurance bad faith

Bad faith insurance practices occur when an insurance carrier intentionally refuses to compensate the insured for a valid claim. In these cases, the insurance carrier may refuse to pay the expenses outlined by the terms of the policy to be covered. If it is determined that the insurance company intentionally does not pay a valid claim, knowing that they are hurting the insured, the courts may force them to pay punitive damages for their actions.

Example of punitive damages

Aside from the brief examples mentioned above, some other examples of punitive damages could be:

  • Punitive damages awarded to a bicyclist injured by a vehicle driver who chased them down and ran them over because they were angry after the bicyclist cut them off on the roadway.
  • Punitive damages awarded to the family of a nursing home resident who died after nursing home staff did not call 911 for more than an hour after knowing the resident was experiencing a medical emergency.
  • Punitive damages may be awarded in an insurance bad faith claim if the insurance company endlessly requests additional information that drags out an injured person’s claim for more than a year.

How to get punitive damages in your suit

When you seek legal assistance from a Phoenix personal injury attorney, then your attorney will thoroughly review your case and work to determine what types of compensation it will be appropriate to seek. In most cases, an attorney will work with financial and medical experts to calculate economic losses such as medical expenses, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses. An attorney will also work to calculate non-economic expenses for a person’s mental anguish, anxiety, pain and suffering, fear, and other emotional and psychological harm caused by the injury.

Upon completely evaluating the facts of the case, an attorney will make a decision as to whether or not they should seek punitive damages. Because it can be difficult to get a jury to award these damages, the circumstances will need to be particularly egregious.

Limits on punitive damages in Arizona

Some states place a cap, or limitation, play amount of punitive damages that can be awarded, but Arizona has no such limitation. However, The United States Supreme Court has generally held the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages should not exceed 9:1.

This would mean that, if a person is awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages, then a punitive damage award of more than $900,000 will not likely be appropriate. Punitive damages awarded in this amount will be reduced.

While there is no official cap on these damages in Arizona, the state Supreme Court has generally held that a punitive damage award ratio of more than 4:1 is inappropriate. In general, the following factors will be used in Arizona to determine the appropriateness of punitive damages:

  • The severity of the defendant’s conduct
  • How long this conduct lasted
  • The degree of the defendant’s awareness of the conduct or their attempt to conceal it
  • The net worth of the defendant

In some cases, a defendant in Arizona may be immune from punitive damages. This is typically going to be the case for any public entities or employees of public entities (public schools, police officers, county building inspectors, etc.).

If you or somebody you love has been injured due to the negligence of another person, contact an attorney at Torgenson Law today. Let us conduct a full investigation into your case so we can obtain maximum compensation for your claim. You can contact us for a free consultation of your case by clicking here or calling (602) 600-0012.