In personal injury cases that involve extremely bad misconduct, punitive damages may be available. When compared to other states, though, Missouri law drastically limits when they can be awarded and how much can be received.
What are Punitive Damages?
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are a type of financial compensation that can be awarded in a personal injury case. They go above and beyond what the victim needs to recover for their losses. Rather than aiming to compensate the victim, punitive damages aim to punish the defendant for egregious wrongdoing.
This makes punitive damages very rare in personal injury claims that are based on the defendant’s negligence, like after a car accident.
Punitive Damages are Hard to Get in Missouri
Generally, victims filing a personal injury claim demand punitive damages but the jury hearing the case does not award them. Defendants have to behave extremely badly, and there generally have to be other victims of his or her conduct who are not in the lawsuit for punitive damages to be awarded.
Under that law, victims cannot demand punitive damages in their initial complaint. More importantly, they have to affirmatively establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant intentionally harmed them without just cause, and “with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.”
This is more demanding than in other states, where the conduct does not necessarily have to be intentional.
Furthermore, this statute forbids punitive damages from being awarded based on harm done to people who are not involved in the lawsuit. Even if the defendant has a long history of similarly terribly conduct, those prior victims cannot justify a punitive damage award for the current one.
Caps on Punitive Damage Awards
Additionally, Missouri has a cap for punitive damage awards.
Missouri Statute 510.265 limits the amount that victims can receive in punitive damages to the lesser of:
- 5 times the compensatory damages awarded, or
This statute has been deemed unconstitutional as a violation of the victim’s right to a jury trial. By giving the judge the power to throw out a substantial aspect of the verdict, the Supreme Court of Missouri, in Lewellen v. Franklin, decided that this violated the Missouri Constitution, Article I, Section 22(a). However, that case was limited to claims involving fraud. The statute still holds for many other types of personal injury claims.
Award is Taxed and Half Goes to the State of Missouri
Finally, even if punitive damages are awarded to a victim in a personal injury claim, half of that award is subject to a lien by the state of Missouri. The rest is taxed.
Missouri Statute 537.675 requires most recipients of punitive damages to notify the Missouri Attorney General’s Office of the award. The state can then take half of the award and deposit it into the tort victims’ compensation fund.
The rest is subject to state and federal taxation as, under Section 104(a)(2) or the Internal Revenue Code, punitive damages are not “damages received on account of personal physical injuries” recovered in a lawsuit.