Punitive Damages

Arizona and New Mexico personal injury laws allow for several types of damages in a personal injury case. You can receive compensatory damages that include economic and non-economic damages. These damages compensate you for your medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other losses. 

The law also provides for non-compensatory damages in some cases called punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded in a small number of cases. However, when juries award punitive damages, the award can be substantial.

What Are Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases in New Mexico and Arizona?

What Are Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases in New Mexico and Arizona?

Punitive damages are also known as non-compensatory damages or exemplary damages. These damages do not compensate the injured party for losses or harm, even though the injured party receives the money for punitive damages. Instead, punitive damages “punish” an at-fault party for their conduct.

Jurors must decide that the at-fault party’s behavior (the defendant) meets or exceeds the requirement for awarding punitive damages. If so, the jurors then determine an amount for punitive damages. 

Punitive damages deter defendants from repeating the same conduct that led to the plaintiff’s (the injured party) injuries. Also, punitive damages can deter other people from engaging in the same behavior. Juries can award punitive damages in most personal injury cases, including car accidents, truck accidents, and slip & fall accidents.

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded in an Arizona Personal Injury Case?

The laws defining and governing punitive damages differ by state. In Arizona, the defendant must have acted with an “evil mind” for punitive damages to apply. Determining what constitutes an “evil mind” can be challenging.

The Arizona Supreme Court provided guidance in several court cases. For punitive damages to be awarded, a jury must determine the evidence proves the defendant’s conduct was:

  • Intended to cause the plaintiff harm;
  • Motivated by ill will or spite; OR;
  • Outrageous in that the defendant consciously decided to pursue conduct knowing that the conduct had a substantial risk of harming someone.

Arizona has some exceptions to the law granting punitive damages. For instance, Arizona Revised Statute §12-820.04 grants immunity from punitive damages to public entities and public employees acting within their scope of employment. Additionally, sellers, service providers, and manufacturers can be exempt from punitive damages if the requirements of Arizona Revised Statute §12-689 apply.

Some states cap punitive damages. Arizona does not cap punitive damages. However, the United States Supreme Court has ruled in cases that a ratio of more than 9:1 of punitive damages to compensatory damages is unconstitutional. 

When Can Punitive Damages Be Awarded in a New Mexico Personal Injury Case?

New Mexico punitive damages laws allow for punitive damage awards in personal injury cases when the defendant’s conduct was:

  • Willful (intentional acts of wrongdoing despite knowing the conduct can cause injury to someone)
  • Malicious (intentional wrongful acts committed while knowing they are wrong)
  • Reckless (intentional conduct with utter indifference to the consequences)
  • Wanton (committing an act with an indifference to the rights or safety of others)

New Mexico does not cap punitive damages in most personal injury cases. However, New Mexico Statute Annotated §41-4-19 gives immunity from punitive damages to public entities and public employees.

What Factors Do Jurors Consider When Awarding Punitive Damages?

The jurors must determine if a defendant’s conduct met the requirements for punitive damages. They must also decide how much to award for punitive damages.

Jurors consider many factors for punitive damage awards. Some factors jurors might consider include:

  • How reprehensible was the defendant’s conduct?
  • What amount might effectively punish the defendant?
  • What amount might effectively deter the defendant and others from committing the conduct?
  • The type and severity of the plaintiff’s injuries and harm.
  • What is the defendant’s financial condition?
  • The extent that the conduct offends justice and the public sense of decency.
  • The defendant’s degree of blame for causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

The burden of proof required for punitive damages is high in a personal injury case. Therefore, it can be difficult to prove punitive damages should be awarded. Hiring an experienced Phoenix personal injury lawyer is essential in these cases. 

How Long Do I Have to File a Claim for Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are part of a personal injury case. Therefore, the statute of limitations that apply to the personal injury claim applies to the claim for punitive damages.

Most personal injury cases in Arizona have a two-year statute of limitations. Exceptions to the statute of limitations exist in some cases, including cases involving minors and government entities.

New Mexico has a three-year statute of limitations for many personal injury cases. However, there are also exceptions to the statute of limitations in New Mexico.

Because exemptions change the deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits, it is always best to seek legal advice as soon as possible after your injury or accident. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Personal Injury Lawyers

Our lawyers at Curiel & Runion Car Accident and Personal Injury Lawyers evaluate each case to determine if punitive damages are justified. We work to maximize the value of your personal injury claim by diligently seeking compensation for all damages. Contact us by calling (602) 595-5559 to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Our personal injury law offices are located in Phoenix, AZ, and Albuquerque, NM.