Punitive Damages in Personal Injury Cases: Understanding the Nevada LawFiled under Personal Injury
If you are injured due to the negligence of someone else, you are entitled to monetary damages for your injuries, including medical bills and lost wages if you are forced to time off work to heal. And, under Nevada law, you may also be entitled to punitive damages. The offices of Paul Padda Law just settled a case which returned a $160.5 million jury verdict. An additional $483 million was sought in punitive damages prior to settlement. You can read more about this case at the Las Vegas Review Journal.
What Are Punitive Damages in Nevada Personal Injury Cases?
Punitive damages are not awarded to compensate you for your injury, but are awarded to punish the defendant and to deter the defendant from doing the same behavior again. Punitive damages also serve as a warning of sorts to others, deterring them from behaving in the same manner. Punitive damages are allowed by statute in Nevada. See NRS 42.001, et. seq.
Punitive damages can be awarded where it is proven that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud or malice, express or implied.
The Process of Requesting Punitive Damages
Courts do not award punitive damages in the abstract. You must be awarded compensatory — or money — damages first. In other words, compensatory damages are a prerequisite to punitive damages. Types of compensatory damages are:
- Property damage
- Loss of limb
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Lost future earnings
- Loss of benefits
- Pain and suffering
If you seek punitive damages, then the statute requires a two-part trial.
In phase I, you and your experienced personal injury attorneys will prove your case. If the jury awards money damages, then a phase II subsequent proceeding will be conducted before the same jury (or judge) where the amount of punitive damages will be determined.
Examples of Punitive Damages
Here are a few examples where the defendants were guilty of oppression, fraud or malice, express or implied.
Wyeth v. Rowatt, 244 P. 3d 765 (Nev. 2010) — $35 million punitive damage award was proper for misleading statements about drug risks and other actions which created a false sense of security about their use. In this case, the plaintiffs used the drugs which caused them to develop breast cancer. The Wyeth drug warning label stated that the relationship between the drug and breast cancer was “unknown,” that the majority of studies showed no increase in breast cancer risk, and that a Wyeth human study did not show an increased risk. These were false and misleading. There was, in fact, scientific data showing an increased risk of cancer with use of the Wyeth drug and the supposed Wyeth study had never been conducted. Evidence further demonstrated that Wyeth financed and manipulated scientific studies and sponsored and ghost wrote articles that deliberately minimized the risk of breast cancer. Wyeth also implemented a policy to dismiss scientific studies that showed any link between breast cancer and Wyeth’s drug. Wyeth also worked to prevent widespread knowledge of a European study that exposed the unusually high breast cancer risk for thin women. As a result of the study, Wyeth updated its European warnings, but never updated its United States labels. One of the women who sued was a thin woman, so the findings of the European study would have applied to her. Taken together, these facts were more than enough to affirm the jury’s award of punitive damages.
Merrick v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 594 F. Supp. 2d 1168 (US Dist. Court Nev. 2008) — $26,394,765.39 punitive damage award was proper against insurance companies for their bad faith practices in denying various disability payments. According to the court, the insurance companies had intentionally engaged in misconduct towards thousands of customers deliberately targeting those who were physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially vulnerable. As an example, the companies targeted certain claims based on mental or nervous disorders such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome (“CFS”) which could not be proven by hard medical evidence such as an x-ray or other type of diagnostic test. As such, the insurance companies decided to deny these claims and use high-pressure tactics to try and get customers to settle. Among the tactics was to claim that “objective evidence” was needed before payment could be made even though obtaining such “objective evidence” was impossible for conditions like CFS. Moreover, such “objective evidence” was not required based on the language of the insurance policies. For this and other tactics, the court concluded that companies had acted maliciously with trickery and deceit.
K Mart Corp. v. Ponsock, 732 P.2d 1364 (Nev. 1987) — $50,000 punitive damage award was proper against K Mart for bad faith firing where they accused an employee of “stealing” a damaged can of spray paint (worth eighty-nine cents) which the employee used to paint part of the company’s forklift, then fired the employee without the normal warning procedures and only six months before the employee’s pension became 100% vested. The Nevada Supreme Court said that firing the plaintiff to deprive him of his pension “… reeks of oppression and malice.” The court went on to say:
“In addition, we note, that when Ponsock applied for relief at the Unemployment Security Department, K Mart characterized Ponsock as a thief which, under the circumstances of this case, could well have been construed as a wilfully defamatory act. These facts, coupled with the course of conduct described above, justify a jury finding of malice and oppression.”
Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. v. Thitchener, 192 P. 3d 243 – Nev: Supreme Court 2008 — $968,070 in punitive damages for mortgage foreclosure of wrong condominium unit despite many “red flags” warning the lender that they were foreclosing on the wrong unit. Among the “red flags” were abundant personal belongings in the unit, furnishings, food in the refrigerator and unopened mail that would indicate that the unit was occupied. In addition, the power was on. Before “trashing” the contents of the unit, the workmen called to confirm the correct unit. They were told “yes.” In addition, the association assessments were paid. Another “red flag.” Again, a call was made to confirm and again the response was “yes.” Shortly thereafter, the lender “discovered” that there were two owners of the unit when only one owner was shown on the mortgage documents. This oddity was ignored. The Nevada Supreme Court held that, taken together, these facts were sufficient for the jury to conclude that the lender knew they were foreclosing on the wrong unit and, as such, willfully and deliberately failed to act with implied malice to avoid the consequences of its mistake.
As can be seen by the cases, significant punitive damages can be — and have been — awarded for personal injury and other types of tortious conduct.
Reach Out to Nevada Personal Injury Lawyers to Discuss Punitive Damages
Contact the personal injury attorneys at Paul Padda Law by phone today. Personal injury lawsuits are extremely complicated, especially in Nevada. You need attorneys that know and understand Nevada law and the Nevada legal system. Before he founded Paul Padda Law, Mr. Padda was a federal prosecutor. He knows how to deliver results and how to put you and your family first.
Contact us today. The initial consultation is free.