Jackson MS Personal Injury Attorney – Punitive Damages in Mississippi: A Primer

Generally, damages recovered in personal injury or product liability cases are intended to compensate the victim for the losses they have suffered.  Punitive damages, however, serve a drastically different purpose.  As the name suggests, punitive damages are designed to punish the party who caused your injuries.  Laws concerning punitive damages vary greatly by state, with some states banning them entirely while others place few, if any, limits on their award.  The following is an overview on punitive damages in the state of Mississippi, intended to provide you with a greater understanding as to what these damages are, when they may be awarded, and how much can be assessed.

When can punitive damages be awarded?

Punitive damages are authorized by Miss. Code Ann § 11-1-65 (2010).  Punitive damages can only be awarded where the plaintiff proves that defendant acted with either:

  1. Actual malice; or
  2. Gross negligence; or
  3. Committed actual fraud

It is important to understand that mere negligence will not establish the right to a punitive damages awards. For instance, in the case of Spann v. Robison Prop. Group, L.P., 970 F. Supp. 564 (N.D. Miss. 1997), a casino customer could not recover punitive damages when testimony revealed that the waitress who spilled hot coffee down his back was bumped by another customer.

The heightened mens rea required for an award of punitive damages makes sense in light of the purpose of this award.  Punitive damages are intended to deter an individual or entity from repeating their harmful behavior.  Actions done unintentionally or without an understanding the potential negative consequences cannot be prevented.  Accordingly, these are not the types of behavior that lead to punitive damages awards.

Miss. Code Ann § 11-1-65(e) lists factors which a jury must consider in determining an award for punitive damages.  The factors include:

  1. The defendant’s financial condition and worth
  2. The nature of the defendant’s wrongdoing and its reprehensibility
  3. The defendant’s awareness of the amount of harm caused and defendant’s motivation in causing the harm
  4. The duration of defendant’s misconduct and attempts to conceal the misconduct
  5. Any other relevant circumstances

What is the standard of proof for receiving punitive damages?

A plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice, gross negligence, or actual fraud.  Punitive damages are not available in actions against the state.

Are punitive damages available in product liability cases?

Punitive damages are limited in product liability matters.  For an award of punitive damages, a plaintiff must establish the seller of the product either:

  1. Exercised substantial control over that aspect of manufacture, design, packaging, or labeling of the product that caused the harm to the plaintiff; or
  2. Altered or modified the product and the modification or alteration was a substantial factor causing plaintiff’s injury; or
  3. The seller had actual knowledge of the defective condition of the product at the time of sale; or
  4. The seller made an express factual representation about the aspect of the product that caused the harm

What is the relationship of punitive to compensatory damages?

Actual damages must be awarded in a case before punitive damages can be considered.  There can be no award of punitive damages absent an award of compensatory damages.

Are there limitations on punitive damages awards?

Punitive damages must be reasonable and must be rationally related to their purpose of punishment in order to deter future harmful conduct.  There are statutory caps on the amount of punitive damages to be awarded.  In Mississippi, punitive damage caps are contingent upon a defendant’s worth.  For instance, caps are set at $20 million for a defendant with a net worth of more than $1 billion and $15 million for a defendant worth between $750 and $1 billion.

Giddens Law Firm: A Proven Track Record for Obtaining Punitive Damages Awards

It takes an aggressive, knowledgeable, and seasoned personal injury attorney to secure large punitive damages awards for clients deserving of such.  Giddens Law Firm has successfully litigated several high profile cases involving the successful award of punitive damages.  For unmatched legal representation, call Giddens Law Firm today at 601-355-2022 to schedule a free consultation.