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VIRGINIA PUNITIVE DAMAGES CAP AFFECTS PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUITS

Virginia has an absolute cap on the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. The statutory limit is $350,000. So if a jury awards more than this amount in a personal injury case where such damages are appropriate, the judge will reduce the amount awarded to the statutory cap amount. Most interestingly, the jury is not informed of the cap mount when they are considering what amount of damages to award. Recently, a Shenandoah jury awarded millions in punitive damages in a civil suit seeking damages from a murderer. The jury’s award was reduced to $350,000 and the jury did not find out about the reduction until they read about it in the newspaper the next day. I do not think that a an absolute cap is fair to the injured party.

It does not consider the conduct that gives rise to the award of punitive damages, nor does it factor in the ability of the defendant to pay such an award. Since the purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter such conduct in the future, a cap limits the ability of the court system to accomplish those goals. A fairer approach would be to limit the damages in some proportion to the compensatory damages award. Of course, a trial judge also has the power to reduce any damages award and judges frequently exercise that power. Unfortunately, the power to increase inadequate awards in Virginia personal injury cases is rarely used.

You can collect for injuries. Call the personal injury law firm of Wilson & Hajek.