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Intention Matters: a Guide on Exemplary vs. Punitive Damages

Intention Matters: a Guide on Exemplary vs. Punitive Damages

The old saying “Let the punishment fit the crime” is reputed to date all the way back to before 100 B.C., when famed Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero inscribed those exact words (in Latin) in his immortal legal treatise titled De Legibus. Cicero’s timeless advice is still considered one of the founding principles of law and is interpreted by legal scholars to mean that the more serious the crime, the more stringent the punishment for it should be. In other words, a sentence for a convicted shoplifter should probably not be as severe as the punishment issued to someone found guilty of premeditated murder – a conclusion with which our legal team wholeheartedly agrees!

In many personal injury cases, though, it’s not always easy to ascribe blame entirely to one party, nor is it obviously evident that someone who caused a plaintiff to be injured did so out of malice (as you’d expect in criminal cases, such as those litigated for first-degree murder, for example). Usually, car crashes or slip-and-fall injuries happen due to accidental circumstances that aren’t intentional. So in general, we first attempt to win compensatory damages for our personal injury clients – funds which are intended to repay them for actual costs of hospital care, doctor visits, lost wages, rehabilitation bills, and other expenses related to the accident. As a general rule, although there are numerous exceptions, in car crash cases compensatory damages can be broken down into two general categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages include things like work loss, medical bills, attendant care, medical mileage, and household replacement services. Non-economic damages typically include disfigurement and/or pain and suffering. Michigan is a No-Fault state, which essentially means that in most cases your insurer will be responsible for covering your economic damages and the negligent driver’s insurer will be responsible for covering your non-economic damages. However, all of these payments are intended to compensate you and your caregivers for your injuries and not to punish the negligent driver, company, or individual for their mistake.


Are Exemplary Damages Michigan’s Punitive Damages?

Michigan courts rarely, if ever, award punitive damages. However, in some cases, plaintiffs can be awarded exemplary damages to compensate them for “injury to feelings and for the sense of indignity and humiliation resulting from injury maliciously and wantonly inflicted.” It is fair to say that exemplary and punitive damages are closely related legal concepts if not identical. For most personal injury victims, the distinction between exemplary and punitive damages is probably best addressed by the words of William Shakespeare that “[a] rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” That is to say that the result of the award will not functionally be different. The only real distinction between punitive and exemplary damages is the intent behind the award; punitive damages are intended to punish the perpetrator of a bad act, whereas exemplary damages are intended to compensate the victim of the bad act.

As noted above, Michigan generally does not award punitive damages, and even exemplary damages are not commonly awarded in Michigan. However, Mike Morse Law Firm attorney John Nachazel Jr. explains, “Punitive and exemplary damages are snake oil in the vast majority of Michigan crash cases, but you can still get some additional recovery if your insurer wrongfully denies coverage after a crash.” In other words, it’s rare for accident victims to be awarded large exemplary settlement amounts in Michigan personal injury cases, but Michigan law does allow for additional compensation in the form of interest and attorney fees in No-Fault cases. Again, these damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff (as opposed to punishing the insurer) for the delay and the cost of hiring an attorney. However, these additional damages are much more easily recovered and will sometimes even be voluntarily paid by insurers if they recognize they made a mistake in denying coverage initially.

Because they are infrequently awarded, you should consult a qualified personal injury attorney to have the best possible chance of obtaining exemplary (or punitive) damages following an accident where you or a loved one have been seriously hurt. But again, because punitive damages are typically awarded at the court’s discretion when the defendant’s behavior is found to be especially harmful”there are no guarantees you’ll prevail in such cases, and you’re far more likely to receive fair and justifiable compensatory damages instead.


How Much Money Should You Expectto Receive in a Punitive Damages Award?

That’s a good question, but sadly one without a very good answer. Since every case is different, and because there are no prescribed dollar amounts for exemplary damages awards designated by Michigan law, we can’t predict how much a judge or jury will award a client in so-called punitive damages. Compensatory damages (which are sometimes also called economic damages) are easier to calculate, since they’re usually “real” costs for which you would ordinarily receive bills or that can be determined by examining the paychecks you’ve lost (and will continue to lose) due to your injuries. Non-economic damages (such as experiencing pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress, challenges to family life, and other issues) are more challenging to quantify but can sometimes be far larger than economic settlements. And we should also point out that there are numerous other types of pain and suffering experienced by accident victims, ranging from physical discomfort and bodily impairment to serious permanent disfigurement, mental anguish, lingering anxiety disorders, or even damage to one’s reputation resulting from false statements made by others about an accident victim. As we’ve noted in another informative article, “Without the help of legal representation, you risk undervaluing those damages and decreasing your potential compensation.”


If You’ve Been Injured by Someone’s Reckless or MaliciousActions, There’s One Thing to Immediately Do

To get that kind of expert legal representation working on your behalf, you need only pick up the phone and dial 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946). We have dedicated teams of attorneys who specialize in dozens of practice areas, including medical malpracticedistracted drivingdrunk drivingslip-and-fall accidentswork-related injuries, and many more where it may be possible for you to receive substantial exemplary damages. If you’ve been injured due to the negligence, bad actions, or irresponsible behavior of others, get us on your side now!

Intention Matters: a Guide on Exemplary vs. Punitive Damages

Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.