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When Are Punitive Damages Available in California Product Liability Cases?

In any type of personal injury action (outside of workers’ compensation actions) in California, an injured victim is entitled to seek recovery of the costs of their past and future medical care for their injuries, their loss of income due to injuries, and pain and suffering. This is the case with defective product cases as well, but, in some product liability cases, the plaintiff may be able to obtain punitive damages from the manufacturer or seller of the product as well, above and beyond the losses the plaintiff suffered. In some cases, punitive damages – which are intended to punish the defendant for putting an unsafe product in the market and deter others from doing the same – can be the largest aspect of a plaintiff’s recovery. Which raises the question of when a California court will indeed award a plaintiff injured by a defective product with punitive damages.

When Punitive Damages Are Awarded

Under California law, a court is authorized to award a plaintiff with punitive damages above and beyond his actual injuries, “where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice…”

Malice is defined to include, “despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Oppression is defined as, “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.” Finally, fraud is defined as, “intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.”

Factors a CA Court Looks at in Awarding Punitive Damages

Putting those various definitions together, along with past cases in which California courts awarded punitive damages to plaintiffs in product liability cases, there are common types of factors that do make courts and juries more likely to award punitive damages. Such factors include:

  • A manufacturer knowingly put an unsafe product into the marketplace
  • A manufacturer intentionally or knowingly failing to conduct the necessary tests to ensure a product’s safety
  • A manufacturer concealing facts about the danger of a product from the public
  • A manufacturer knowingly putting profits ahead of consumer safety
  • The size and financial assets of a defendant (the larger the defendant, the larger the punitive damages may need to be to create a deterrent effect)
  • The reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct
  • How well or poorly the organization responded to consumer complaints and reports of accidents

Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney to determine whether punitive damages may be available for your product liability claim.

Contact McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP Today Regarding Your Product Liability Claim

Whether you are seeking to bring an individual product liability suit for your injuries or are interested in joining a class of similarly injured plaintiffs, the product liability legal team at McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP is waiting to hear from you.  When you contact McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, we will begin the process of investigating your situation immediately in order to work towards maximum recovery in your case as quickly as possible. You owe no legal fee unless and until you recover. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss your matter.    

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