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Frequently Asked Questions About Punitive Damages

When people suffer injuries because of defective products, they may be entitled to various forms of compensation through a product liability claim. This includes compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and possibly punitive damages.

However, punitive damages are very different from other forms of compensation. The list of frequently asked questions below answers some of the most common questions about punitive damages in Oregon products liability cases.

Contact our Portland product liability lawyers today to review your legal options.

Call 503.245.5677 for a Free Case Evaluation.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are a special form of compensation that is only awarded in cases where the at-fault party acted with malice or has shown reckless or outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and was consciously indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of others (Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 31.730(1)).

All personal injury cases are based on negligence, but punitive damages are reserved for cases where negligence was particularly extreme. It can be very difficult to prove you are entitled to punitive damages, which is why these types of damages are not awarded that often. 

How do I Prove I am Entitled to Punitive Damages?

Under Oregon law, you cannot recover punitive damages unless you provide clear and convincing evidence of malice or reckless or outrageous indifference. This will require detailed evidence of the at-fault party's actions and why they were particularly extreme or indifferent to your safety and well-being.

In a product liability case, you may be able to meet this standard by showing the severity of your injuries and how this is directly related to the dangers of the product. You will probably also need to establish that the high risk of injury was blatantly obvious to the at-fault party. If something is very obviously dangerous, but someone does it anyway, this may help to show the action was intentional.

An attorney from Rizk Law can carefully review your situation to determine if you may be entitled to punitive damages and work to obtain the necessary evidence.

What are Some Examples of Malice or Recklessness in Product Liability Cases?

A classic example of recklessness in a product liability case is the woman who sued McDonald's because the coffee was too hot. It was revealed during the trial that if the coffee had been 30-40 degrees colder, the woman would have avoided severe injury.

McDonald's knew the coffee presented a risk of serious injury. There had also been published warnings about the danger of beverages that were more than 130 degrees. In this case, the woman was awarded punitive damages.

If you can show that a manufacturer or designer knew about the risks of a product and did nothing to address it, you may be able to obtain punitive damages, whether the product is a piece of furniture, baby crib, brakes in a car, home appliance like a stove or something else.

There are a huge number of lawsuits over defective drugs or medical devices and products that address a health or hygiene issue, such as talcum powder. These claims often allege that the manufacturer failed to warn about a very reasonable risk of side effects or injuries. Victims in these cases who prevail often receive punitive damages.  

How Much are Punitive Damages Worth?

The value of any type of damages depends on the specifics of your case and the damages you suffered. However, punitive damages are different because they are not based on any economic or non-economic harm you suffered.

Punitive damages are intended to punish the at-fault party for his or her actions and help prevent others from doing anything similar in the future. The value of the punitive damages you receive will be based on the evidence presented and the jury's determination of the value of these damages.

If the jury decides to award punitive damages, the court will review the award to make sure it fits in the range of damages that a rational juror would award based on the facts of the case as a whole and statutory and common-law factors that allow punitive damages. This could result in a reduction of your punitive damages award (ORS 31.730(2)).

Another factor that could lower the value of punitive damages is if the at-fault party makes a motion to reduce damages because steps have been taken to prevent a reoccurrence of the same situation.

The court will also consider the amount of any previous punitive damages judgment against the same party for the same conduct that gave rise to the punitive damages claim. 

Does Oregon Have a Cap on Punitive Damages?

Oregon places a cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages in personal injury cases, but there is no cap on punitive damages. However, the answer to the question above explains how punitive damages could be reduced by the court.

How Do I Claim Punitive Damages in Oregon?

You cannot request punitive damages when you file a pleading for a civil action. However, any time after the pleading is filed, you can ask the court to amend the pleading to include punitive damages (ORS 31.725(2)). You can submit affidavits and documentation to support your claim, and the other party has the right to submit motions opposing this request.

However, your motion for punitive damages will be denied if:

  • The court decides your documentation does not establish specific facts supported by evidence that will be admissible and this evidence is strong enough to prevent the court from granting a motion by the at-fault party opposing your request for punitive damages.
  • The other party proves that the timing of your motion hurts their ability to defend against your claim. Oregon law may give the at-fault party extra time to oppose a motion by conducting discovery to establish why the motion should be denied. The court will conduct a hearing on this type of motion no more than 30 days after it has been filed and served. Within 10 days of the hearing, the court shall issue a decision. If no decision is issued in that time, you can consider the motion to be denied.

How Are Oregon Punitive Damage Awards Distributed?

If you prevail and the jury decides to award punitive damages, 30 percent will be paid to you. However, your attorney will be entitled to a portion of this 30 percent that you agreed upon beforehand. State law prohibits more than 20 percent of the 30 percent being paid to your attorney (ORS 31.735(1)).

Another 60 percent of the award will be paid to the Criminal Inquiries Compensation Account of the Department of Justice Crime Victims' Assistance Section. The last 10 percent will be paid to the Attorney General to deposit in the State Court Facilities and Security Account.

If there are significant punitive damages, the Oregon Justice Department often files a peremptory lien against the damages to ensure they are distributed properly.

Contact Rizk Law Today to Discuss Your Product Liability Claim

The questions above help to show just how complicated the legal process for product liability cases is. Victims should not have to manage this process on their own – you have the option to seek legal representation.

However, the attorney you choose to represent you should be experienced in these cases and have a record of recovering fair compensation for injury victims. At Rizk Law, we have recovered more than $15 million in compensation and are ready to put our experience to work for you.

Schedule a 100 percent free consultation today so we can determine if you have a case. We will manage your case on a contingency fee basis, so there will be no fees or costs unless you are compensated.

Fill out a Free Case Evaluation form today or call us at 503.245.5677.