Punitive Damages in California

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Consider this California Punitive Damages scenario:

It’s a bustling day at the local Los Angeles grocery store.

Parents, in an attempt to teach their children some responsibility, are having them push their grocery carts while they occupy themselves with checking off their grocery list.

Unfortunately, some parents are more successful in this endeavor than Mark could ever be. After all, his little Lizzy is running amok, knocking chips off the shelves, and eventually a gallon of water, its contents spilling all over the floor. A frustrated Mark hastily tells the grocery store manager about this, concerned that the spillage might cause a personal injury. But the grocery store was understaffed, and there were much too many people to serve, so the manager chose to leave the floor as is, not thinking to put up signs to warn the customers.

He would come to regret his decision later on when his employee came running towards him to report that a customer had fallen headfirst on the floor due to the slippage. Immediately, the store manager runs towards the aisle the customer is in and instructs his workers to call 911. As the customer is being wheeled out on a stretcher, he begins to threaten to sue the store for compensatory and punitive damages, much to the manager’s chagrin.

Cal Civil Code 3294

The California Civil Code Section 3294 outlines what is considered to be “punitive damage” in California. According to the California law, victims can be awarded compensation for punitive damages given that there is “clear and convincing” evidence that the defendant has been found guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. The aforementioned words are defined as follows:

  • Malice: “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

    In layman’s terms, actions that are INTENDED to cause injury or pose risk to the safety of those around them.

  • Oppression: “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights.”

    Simply put, actions that impose significant difficulty to others due to recklessness or with clear intent.

  • Fraud: “an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”

    Basically lying to the defendant, causing their injury.

Punitive Damages vs. Compensatory Damages

In a personal injury case, it’s common for the plaintiff to sue for compensatory damages, but suing for punitive damages depends on a case-by-base basis.

Suing the defendant for compensatory damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for fees incurred as a result of the injury, such as medical bills, loss of wages (ie: missing work to recuperate), etc. In cases involving car accidents, the cost to repair the plaintiff’s vehicle will be considered as well

In the scenario above, the customer is entitled to sue for compensatory damages given that the treatment he’s bound to receive as a result of the injury, in addition to any wages that he might lose as a result of it, will cost some sum of money.

But while compensatory damages focus on the plaintiff, punitive damages are different in that it intends to punish the defendant for extreme and outrageous behavior that puts the customer at risk for injury. Personal injury cases usually involve the former, but rarely can the plaintiff sue for the latter. To prove that the defendant is liable for punitive damages, the plaintiff must present “clear and convincing evidence” that the injury is a result of the defendant’s recklessness.

About Omega Law Group

If you have incurred a personal injury and suspect yourself entitled compensation for punitive damages, you need to contact Omega Law Group. Our awards and excellent testimonials are a result of our ability to empathize and attend to the needs of our clients. Here at Omega Law Group, you will come first. If you or a loved one is afflicted with an accident, reach out to our team. Visit our Contact Us page or call us at (310) 504-1852.

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