Punitive Damages in Alabama by Lawyer Mark Jones
Introduction to Punitive Damages
I am often asked about the different types of damages available to a client in a law suit when the client has been injured by the negligence of another in a car wreck, slip and fall, or other injury case.
Probably one of the most significant types of damages is called “punitive” damages. The concept behind punitive damages is that a wrongdoer should be punished in the form of a monetary penalty awarded to the person wronged.
Biblical Origins of Punitive Damages
Punitive damages have biblical origins. Mosaic law established punitive damages — particularly for those who committed fraud or theft — any civil wrong that bordered on criminal deserved punitive damages under Mosaic law. The most well-known biblical example of punitive damages involves King David.
King David, of course, committed adultery with Bathsheba and “stole” the wife of Uriah, a brave and honorable soldier who fought in David’s army. This conduct by David was callous, wanton, and downright malicious. It was reckless and wrong.
In order to hold David accountable for stealing Bathsheba and killing Uriah, the prophet, Nathan, tells David a story about a rich man who steals a poor man’s lamb and eats the lamb for dinner. 2 Samuel 12:1-17. Outraged, David orders that the rich man be killed and that the poor man receive compensation for the lamb fourfold.
In other words, David had ordered punitive damages be issued against the man for the man’s wrongdoing. (Of course, David did not realize that he was the man in the parable Nathan told!).
Punitive Damages In Alabama
In Alabama, the law allows for an award of punitive damages by a jury where a defendant has committed the tort of wantonness. Wantonness is codified in Alabama Code 6-11-20, which states in Alabama Code 6-11-20(a):
Punitive damages may not be awarded in any civil action except … where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant consciously or deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice with regard to the plaintiff.
Wantonness is defined in Alabama Code 1-11-20(b)(3) as “Conduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Thus, in Alabama, punitive damages may and should be awarded by a jury where it is shown convincingly by the plaintiff that the defendant’s behavior was so risky and so reckless that it can be inferred the defendant knew that his/her actions would lead to injury or harm to someone.
Punitive Damages are Capped Under Alabama Law
Punitive damages cannot be awarded in exorbitant amounts. Under Alabama law, there are certain statutory caps on punitive damages:
- Small business cap: an award of punitive damages against a small business having a net worth of less than $2 million at the time of the occurrence of the incident made the basis for the suit may not exceed $50,000.00 or 10% of the business’ net worth, whichever is greater;
- Non-physical injury cap: in cases where there is no physical injury, damages are capped at $500,000.00 or three times the compensatory damages of the party claiming punitive damages, whichever is greater;
- Physical injury cap: in actions involving physical injury, damages are not to exceed three times the compensatory damages of the party claiming punitives or $1.5 million, whichever is greater.
This is a very broad summary of the law of punitive damages in Alabama. If you have further questions, please contact Lawyer Mark Jones. Mark Jones actively practices in Phenix City, Alabama and offers a free consultation regarding your car wreck, slip and fall, trip and fall, or personal injury case. Call Mark today at 706-225-2555.[schema type=”organization” orgtype=”Corporation” url=”www.LawyerMarkJones.Com” name=”Law Offices of Mark P. Jones” description=”Columbus Ga Lawyer Mark Jones” street=”233 12th Street” pobox=”427″ city=”Columbus” state=”Georgia” postalcode=”31902″ country=”US” email=”firstname.lastname@example.org” phone=”706-225-2555″ fax=”706-255-2556″ ]