Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s behavior is so outrageous that it warrants punishment. While not every state permits the award of punitive damages, Illinois does under certain circumstances.

Punitive damages are typically awarded in Illinois civil lawsuits where defendants are shown to have acted with an evil motive or with outrageously reckless indifference for the safety of others. Ordinary negligence is not enough to warrant punitive damages, and they are rarely awarded. In Illinois, only the injured person is eligible to claim punitive damages. However, lawmakers have recently pushed for punitive damages to be available to family members of injured victims in wrongful death claims. Punitive damages can be quite substantial, especially if the defendant’s behavior is especially egregious. While punitive damages are no longer capped by statute, they should still not be excessive.

To discuss your case and the possibility of punitive damages in a free case review with our Illinois personal injury lawyers, call the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502.

When Are Punitive Damages Available in Illinois?

Punitive damages are separate and distinct from compensatory damages. While compensatory damages serve to make the plaintiff whole again, at least financially, punitive damages serve a far different purpose. Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants by imposing a high price on their bad behavior. Punitive damages also deter others similarly situated to the defendant and discourage future bad behavior.

The bar you must meet to justify an award of punitive damages is very high. As a result, these damages tend to be rare. According to 735 I.L.C.S. § 5/2-1115.05(b), to be awarded punitive damages, you must prove that the defendant acted with an evil motive or an outrageous and reckless indifference to unreasonably high safety risks to others.

In short, punitive damages must be based on much more than ordinary negligence. In some jurisdictions, courts might refer to this as “gross negligence.” Our Illinois personal injury lawyers can help you find clear and convincing evidence to prove this high degree of negligence in Illinois. This evidentiary standard is higher than the typical preponderance of evidence required in civil claims, and you should speak with your attorney about what you must do to plead punitive damage successfully.

Who Can Claim Punitive Damages in Illinois?

Up until very recently, Illinois only allowed the injured victim in a civil lawsuit to claim punitive damages. In most cases, this is likely a non-issue, as the injured victim is typically the person bringing the cause of action in the first place. However, this becomes a bigger problem in cases of wrongful death.

If you are filing a wrongful death claim related to the untimely passing of a loved one, you might be unable to claim punitive damages even if your loved one could have claimed punitive damages had they survived. Unlike many other compensatory damages, punitive damages do not survive the death of the injured victim.

While this is certainly frustrating for surviving families seeking to file wrongful death claims, Illinois lawmakers have recently confronted the issue. Illinois House Bill 0219 was introduced in early 2023 to allow surviving families in wrongful death cases to claim punitive damages. The bill was passed in the state Senate and the House of Representatives before being signed by the governor. The new law took effect on August 11, 2023.

How to Plead Punitive Damages in Illinois Civil Lawsuits

Punitive damages are not always available. In fact, they are rarely awarded even when a defendant meets the criteria to claim punitive damages. The criteria for pleading punitive damages can be found under 735 I.L.C.S. § 5/2-604.1.

To seek punitive damages, your case must involve physical injury or property damage based on negligence or involve product liability claims. However, including a pleading for punitive damages requires jumping through a few legal hoops.

First, you cannot initially include punitive damages in your complaint. Instead, you must file the complaint without any claim for punitive damages. Later, you can file a pretrial motion to amend the complaint to include punitive damages. This motion should be made no later than 30 days after the close of the discovery phase.

The court will not simply allow you to amend your complaint. There will be a hearing where you must convince the court that a reasonable likelihood exists of proving facts sufficient to obtain an award of punitive damages.

In short, you can only enter a pleading for punitive damages after the case has been filed and after a hearing where you assure a judge that pursuing punitive damages will not be a futile effort.

How Much Are Punitive Damages Worth in Illinois?

Punitive damages are perhaps most famous for being very high. Cases with multi-million punitive damages awards often make news headlines. While punitive damages can be quite substantial, there might be upper limits to consider.

In the past, punitive damages in Illinois were capped by statute. The statute imposed a limit of punitive damages being no more than 3 times the value of economic damages. This means if you were awarded $100,000 in economic damages, your punitive damages may be no more than $300,000.

This statutory cap no longer exists, as the courts have ruled that statutory caps on punitive damages are unconstitutional. In short, there is no hard legal limit on how high punitive damages may be in Illinois.

Even so, punitive damages should be proportional to the injuries and damages in your case. If a jury awards punitive damages that are extremely high, the judge might intervene and reduce punitive damages to something more appropriate.

Call Our Illinois Personal Injury Attorneys to Discuss Damages in Your Case

Call the Rhatigan Law Offices at (312) 578-8502 to discuss your case and the possibility of punitive damages in a free case evaluation with our Chicago personal injury lawyers.

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