Punitive Damages Cases


Punitive damage cases are cases of outrage. The defendant's conduct goes beyond negligence and gross negligence. In punitive damage cases, the defendant knew or should have known that his conduct would cause injury or death, but he did it anyway.

Two Categories of Punitive Damage Cases

Defendant Acted With Malice. Malice is defined as "evil intent." The defendant intentionally causes injury or death to another person. For example, if John intentionally runs Pete down as he is crossing the street on Gallows Road in Fairfax, Virginia with his car. John is said to have acted with "malice." He intentionally injured Pete.

Defendant Acted Recklessly With Conscious Disregard For Safety. A wrongdoer may still be liable for punitive damages even if he did not intend to hurt anyone. If a wrongdoer acts recklessly, knowing that his conduct is likely to cause personal injury or death, Virginia law holds that the wrongdoer may be liable to the injured person for punitive damages. For example, if John were driving 95 m.p.h. in a known school zone on King Street in Alexandria, Virginia at lunchtime, his conduct displays a reckless, conscious disregard for the safety of others. If John injures or kills someone, the law allows the jury to award punitive damages against him. It is no defense that John never intended to injure anyone.

Punitive Damages Against Drunk Drivers

David Jones spent New Year’s Eve drinking heavily at a bar on King Street in Old Town Alexandria. He staggered to his car but drove anyway, killing a young college student in this Alexandria drunk driving accident. David slurred to the police, “I didn’t intend to kill anyone.” The victim’s family sued the drunk driver for punitive damages in their wrongful death lawsuit against him.

Drunk driving is a safety hazard to all of us in Virginia. It is no defense to a drunk driving accident punitive damages claim for the drunk driver to testify, "I didn't intend to injure or kill anyone."

Virginia law allows a jury to hold a drunk driver liable for punitive damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases if the drunk driver's "conduct was so willful and wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others." To learn more about punitive damages in Virginia drunk driving accidents, click "drunk driving accidents."

The Three Purposes of Punitive Damages

The Virginia Supreme Court has often stated the three purposes of punitive damages:

  1. To punish the defendant for his conduct;
  2. To deter and warn the defendant from doing it again; and
  3. To deter and warn others from doing it.

Punitive damages are necessary to prevent and deter wrongdoers from making dangerous choices that gamble with the safety of everyone in our community.

Compensatory and Punitive Damages

A wrongdoer is responsible for "compensatory" damages which compensate his victim in money for the personal injury and wrongful death the wrongdoer caused. Virginia law imposes no limit on compensatory damages.

Unlike compensatory damages, the purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate the victim, but, as noted, to punish the wrongdoer and deter future conduct.

The Virginia Statutory Cap on Punitive Damages

Virginia Code S8.01-380.1 caps punitive damages against all defendants in a case at $350,000.00. If the jury awards more, the judge is required by law to reduce the punitive damage award to the statutory cap of $350,000.00.

Punitive Damages Against the Wrongdoer's Employer

To recover punitive damages against a wrongdoer's employer, the injured person must prove the wrongful act was:

  1. done within the scope of employment;
  2. done with malice or with conscious disregard for the safety of others; and
  3. the wrongful conduct was expressly authorized by the employer, the employer participated in the wrongful act himself, or later ratified the wrongful act.

Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

Punitive damages are recoverable against a wrongdoer in wrongful death cases where the wrongdoer acted with malice or with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Gerald Schwartz has 30 years experience handling Virginia fatal car accident punitive damages cases from Alexandria to Fairfax to Fredericksburg, Virginia.

However, if the wrongdoer himself dies, punitive damages are not recoverable since two of the purposes for punitive damages are no longer available -- to punish and deter similar future conduct by the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer dies, the injured person's punitive damage claim is said to die with the wrongdoer.


Punitive damage cases are cases of outrage. The defendant needs to be punished and a message needs to be sent for the defendant and others not to do it again.

Gerald Schwartz is a Virginia punitive damage lawyer. He regularly sues drunk drivers for punitive damages.

Alexandria DUI victim lawyer Gerald Schwartz has been selected by other lawyers for inclusion in Virginia Super Lawyers (only 5% are selected) every year since 2007. He is a Past President of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

To learn your options in seeking punitive damages against a wrongdoer, contact Gerald Schwartz, a Virginia punitive damages lawyer, at 703-823-0055.