Punitive Damages – awarded in addition to actual compensatory damages as a fine imposed as a form of punishment when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit, or oppression against the plaintiff(s)


1. Having to do with punishment. [1]

punitive damages:

1. Damages awarded in addition to actual damages when the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit; specifically, damages assessed by way of penalizing the wrongdoer or making an example to others.  *  Punitive damages, which are intended to punish and thereby deter blameworthy conduct, are generally not recoverable for breach of contract.  The Supreme Court has held that three guidelines help determine whether a punitive-damages award violates constitutional due process:

(1) the reprehensibility of the conduct being punished;
(2) the reasonableness of the relationship between‘the harm and the award; and
(3) the difference between the award and the civil penalties authorized in comparable cases. BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 116 S.Ct. 1589 (1996).

— aka exemplary damages; vindictive damages; punitory damages; presumptive damages; added damages; aggravated damages; speculative damages; imaginary damages; smart money; punies. [2]

1. Damages which are allowed as an enhancement of compensatory damages because of the wanton, reckless, malicious, or oppressive character of the acts of which the plaintiff complains.  22 Am J2d Damg § 236.

Damages awarded to punish the defendant for a wilful act and to vindicate the rights of a party in substitution for personal revenge, thus safeguarding the public peace.  Winkler v Hartford Acci. & Indem. Co. 66 NJ Super 22, 168 A2d 418. [3]

     Excerpt from Cooper Indus. v Leatherman Tool, 532 U.S. 424, 432, 121 S.Ct. 1678, 1683 (2001):

     “Although compensatory damages and punitive damages are typically awarded at the same time by the same decisionmaker, they serve distinct purposes.  The former are intended to redress the concrete loss that the plaintiff has suffered by reason of the defendant’s wrongful conduct.  The latter, which have been described as ‘quasi-criminal,’ operate as ‘private fines’ intended to punish the defendant and to deter future wrongdoing.  A jury’s assessment of the extent of a plaintiff’s injuries is essentially a factual determination, whereas its imposition of punitive damages is an expression of its moral condemnation.” [4]


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[1]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition by Jack Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[2]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black, Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-61300-4

[3]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[4]: Cooper Indus. v Leatherman Tool, 532 U.S. 424, 432, 121 S.Ct. 1678, 1683 (2001)


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